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Paulo Coelho - 
The Alchemist 

The Alchemist 

Paulo Coelho 

Translated by Alan R. Clarke. 
Published 1992. ISBN 0-7225-3293-8. 


The boy's name was Santiago. Dusk 
was falling as the boy arrived with his 
herd at an abandoned church. The roof 
had fallen in long ago, and an 
enormous sycamore had grown on the 
spot where the sacristy had once stood. 

He decided to spend the night there. He 
saw to it that all the sheep entered 
through the ruined gate, and then laid 
some planks across it to prevent the 
flock from wandering away during the 
night. There were no wolves in the 
region, but once an animal had strayed 
during the night, and the boy had had to 

spend the entire next day searching for 

He swept the floor with his jacket and 
lay down, using the book he had just 
finished reading as a pillow. He told 
himself that he would have to start 
reading thicker books: they lasted 
longer, and made more comfortable 

It was still dark when he awoke, and, 
looking np, he could see the stars 
through the half-destroyed roof. 

I wanted to sleep a little longer, he 
thought. He had had the same dream 
that night as a week ago, and once 
again he had awakened before it ended. 

He arose and, taking up his crook, 
began to awaken the sheep that still 
slept. He had noticed that, as soon as he 
awoke, most of his animals also began 
to stir. It was as if some mysterious 
energy bound his life to that of the 
sheep, with whom he had spent the past 
two years, leading them through the 
countryside in search of food and 
water. "They are so used to me that 
they know my schedule," he muttered. 
Thinking about that for a moment, he 
realized that it could be the other way 
around: that it was he who had become 
accustomed to their schedule. 

But there were certain of them who 
took a bit longer to awaken. The boy 

prodded them, one by one, with his 
crook, calling each by name. He had 
always believed that the sheep were 
able to understand what he said. So 
there were times when he read them 
parts of his books that had made an 
impression on him, or when he would 
tell them of the loneliness or the 
happiness of a shepherd in the fields. 
Sometimes he would comment to them 
on the things he had seen in the 
villages they passed. 

But for the past few days he had spoken 
to them about only one thing: the girl, 
the daughter of a merchant who lived 
in the village they would reach in about 
four days. He had been to the village 

only once, the year before. The 
merchant was the proprietor of a dry 
goods shop, and he always demanded 
that the sheep be sheared in his 
presence, so that he would not be 
cheated. A friend had told the boy 
about the shop, and he had taken his 
sheep there. 

"I need to sell some wool," the boy told 
the merchant. 

The shop was busy, and the man asked 
the shepherd to wait until the 
afternoon. So the boy sat on the steps 
of the shop and took a book from his 

"I didn't know shepherds knew how to 
read," said a girl's voice behind him. 

The girl was typical of the region of 
Andalusia, with flowing black hair, and 
eyes that vaguely recalled the Moorish 

"Well, usually I learn more from my 
sheep than from books," he answered. 
During the two hours that they talked, 
she told him she was the merchant's 
daughter, and spoke of life in the 
village, where each day was like all the 
others. The shepherd told her of the 
Andalusian countryside, and related the 
news from the other towns where he 
had stopped. 

It was a pleasant change from talking 
to his sheep. 

"How did you learn to read?" the girl 
asked at one point. 

"Like everybody learns," he said. "In 

"Well, if you know how to read, why 
are you just a shepherd?" 

The boy mumbled an answer that 
allowed him to avoid responding to her 
question. He was sure the girl would 
never understand. He went on telling 
stories about his travels, and her bright, 
Moorish eyes went wide with fear and 
surprise. As the time passed, the boy 

found himself wishing that the day 
would never end, that her father would 
stay busy and keep him waiting for 
three days. He recognized that he was 
feeling something he had never 
experienced before: the desire to live in 
one place forever. With the girl with 
the raven hair, his days would never be 
the same again. 

But finally the merchant appeared, and 
asked the boy to shear four sheep. He 
paid for the wool and asked the 
shepherd to come back the following 

And now it was only four days before 

he would be back in that same village. 
He was excited, and at the same time 
uneasy: maybe the girl had already 
forgotten him. Lots of shepherds 
passed through, selling their wool. 

"It doesn't matter," he said to his sheep. 
"I know other girls in other places." 

But in his heart he knew that it did 
matter. And he knew that shepherds, 
like seamen and like traveling 
salesmen, always found a town where 
there was someone who could make 
them forget the joys of carefree 

The day was dawning, and the shepherd 
urged his sheep in the direction of the 

sun. They never have to make any 
decisions, he thought. Maybe that's 
why they always stay close to me. 

The only things that concerned the 
sheep were food and water. As long as 
the boy knew how to find the best 
pastures in Andalusia, they would be 
his friends. Yes, their days were all the 
same, with the seemingly endless hours 
between sunrise and dusk; and they had 
never read a book in their young lives, 
and didn't understand when the boy 
told them about the sights of the cities. 
They were content with just food and 
water, and, in exchange, they 
generously gave of their wool, their 
company, and—once in a while— 

their meat. 

If I became a monster today, and 
decided to kill them, one by one, they 
would become aware only after most of 
the flock had been slaughtered, thought 
the boy. They trust me, and they've 
forgotten how to rely on their own 
instincts, because I lead them to 

The boy was surprised at his thoughts. 
Maybe the church, with the sycamore 
growing from within, had been 
haunted. It had caused him to have the 
same dream for a second time, and it 
was causing him to feel anger toward 
his faithful companions. He drank a bit 

from the wine that remained from his 
dinner of the night before, and he 
gathered his jacket closer to his body. 
He knew that a few hours from now, 
with the sun at its zenith, the heat 
would be so great that he would not be 
able to lead his flock across the fields. 
It was the time of day when all of 
Spain slept during the summer. The 
heat lasted until nightfall, and all that 
time he had to carry his jacket. But 
when he thought to complain about the 
burden of its weight, he remembered 
that, because he had the jacket, he had 
withstood the cold of the dawn. 

We have to be prepared for change, he 
thought, and he was grateful for the 

jacket's weight and warmth. 

The jacket had a purpose, and so did 
the boy. His purpose in life was to 
travel, and, after two years of walking 
the Andalusian terrain, he knew all the 
cities of the region. He was planning, 
on this visit, to explain to the girl how 
it was that a simple shepherd knew how 
to read. That he had attended a 
seminary until he was sixteen. His 
parents had wanted him to become a 
priest, and thereby a source of pride for 
a simple farm family. They worked 
hard just to have food and water, like 
the sheep. He had studied Latin, 
Spanish, and theology. But ever since 
he had been a child, he had wanted to 

know the world, and this was much 
more important to him than knowing 
God and learning about man's sins. 

One afternoon, on a visit to his family, 
he had summoned up the courage to 
tell his father that he didn't want to 
become a priest. That he wanted to 

"People from all over the world have 
passed through this village, son," said 
his father. 

"They come in search of new things, 
but when they leave they are basically 
the same people they were when they 

arrived. They climb the mountain to 
see the castle, and they wind up 
thinking that the past was better than 
what we have now. They have blond 
hair, or dark skin, but basically they're 
the same as the people who live right 

"But I'd like to see the castles in the 
towns where they live," the boy 

"Those people, when they see our land, 
say that they would like to live here 
forever," his father continued. 

"Well, I'd like to see their land, and see 
how they live," said his son. 

"The people who come here have a lot 
of money to spend, so they can afford 
to travel," 

his father said. "Amongst us, the only 
ones who travel are the shepherds." 

"Well, then I'll be a shepherd!" 

His father said no more. The next day, 
he gave his son a pouch that held three 
ancient Spanish gold coins. 

"I found these one day in the fields. I 
wanted them to be a part of your 
inheritance. But use them to buy your 
flock. Take to the fields, and someday 
you'll learn that our countryside is the 
best, and our women the most 


And he gave the boy his blessing. The 
boy could see in his father's gaze a 
desire to be able, himself, to travel the 
world—a desire that was still alive, 
despite his father's having had to bury 
it, over dozens of years, under the 
burden of struggling for water to drink, 
food to eat, and the same place to sleep 
every night of his life. 

The horizon was tinged with red, and 
suddenly the sun appeared. The boy 
thought back to that conversation with 
his father, and felt happy; he had 
already seen many castles and met 

many women (but none the equal of the 
one who awaited him several days 

He owned a jacket, a book that he could 
trade for another, and a flock of sheep. 
But, most important, he was able every 
day to live out his dream. If he were to 
tire of the Andalusian fields, he could 
sell his sheep and go to sea. By the 
time he had had enough of the sea, he 
would already have known other cities, 
other women, and other chances to be 
happy. I couldn't have found God in the 
seminary, he thought, as he looked at 
the sunrise. 

Whenever he could, he sought out a 

new road to travel. He had never been 
to that ruined church before, in spite of 
having traveled through those parts 
many times. The world was huge and 
inexhaustible; he had only to allow his 
sheep to set the route for a while, and 
he would discover other interesting 
things. The problem is that they don't 
even realize that they're walking a new 
road every day. They don't see that the 
fields are new and the seasons change. 
All they think about is food and water. 

Maybe we're all that way, the boy 
mused. Even me—I haven't thought of 
other women since I met the 
merchant's daughter. Looking at the 
sun, he calculated that he would reach 

Tarifa before midday. There, he could 
exchange his book for a thicker one, 
fill his wine bottle, shave, and have a 
haircut; he had to prepare himself for 
his meeting with the girl, and he didn't 
want to think about the possibility that 
some other shepherd, with a larger 
flock of sheep, had arrived there before 
him and asked for her hand. 

It's the possibility of having a dream 
come true that makes life interesting, 
he thought, as he looked again at the 
position of the sun, and hurried his 
pace. He had suddenly remembered 
that, in Tarifa, there was an old woman 
who interpreted dreams. 

The old woman led the boy to a room 
at the back of her house; it was 
separated from her living room by a 
curtain of colored beads. The room's 
furnishings consisted of a table, an 
image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and 
two chairs. 

The woman sat down, and told him to 
be seated as well. Then she took both 
of his hands in hers, and began quietly 
to pray. 

It sounded like a Gypsy prayer. The 
boy had already had experience on the 
road with Gypsies; they also traveled, 
but they had no flocks of sheep. People 

said that Gypsies spent their lives 
tricking others. It was also said that 
they had a pact with the devil, and that 
they kidnapped children and, taking 
them away to their mysterious camps, 
made them their slaves. As a child, the 
boy had always been frightened to 
death that he would be captured by 
Gypsies, and this childhood fear 
returned when the old woman took his 
hands in hers. 

But she has the Sacred Heart of Jesus 
there, he thought, trying to reassure 
himself. He didn't want his hand to 
begin trembling, showing the old 
woman that he was fearful. He recited 
an Our Father silently. 

"Very interesting," said the woman, 
never taking her eyes from the boy's 
hands, and then she fell silent. 

The boy was becoming nervous. His 
hands began to tremble, and the woman 
sensed it. 

He quickly pulled his hands away. 

"I didn't come here to have you read 
my palm," he said, already regretting 
having come. 

He thought for a moment that it would 
be better to pay her fee and leave 
without learning a thing, that he was 
giving too much importance to his 
recurrent dream. 

"You came so that you could learn 
about your dreams," said the old 
woman. "And dreams are the language 
of God. When he speaks in our 
language, I can interpret what he has 
said. But if he speaks in the language 
of the soul, it is only you who can 

But, whichever it is. I'm going to 
charge you for the consultation." 

Another trick, the boy thought. But he 
decided to take a chance. A shepherd 
always takes his chances with wolves 
and with drought, and that's what 
makes a shepherd's life exciting. 

"I have had the same dream twice," he 

said. "I dreamed that I was in a field 
with my sheep, when a child appeared 
and began to play with the animals. I 
don't like people to do that, because the 
sheep are afraid of strangers. But 
children always seem to be able to play 
with them without frightening them. I 
don't know why. I don't know how 
animals know the age of human 

"Tell me more about your dream," said 
the woman. "I have to get back to my 
cooking, and, since you don't have 
much money, I can't give you a lot of 

"The child went on playing with my 

sheep for quite a while," continued the 
boy, a bit upset. "And suddenly, the 
child took me by both hands and 
transported me to the Egyptian 

He paused for a moment to see if the 
woman knew what the Egyptian 
pyramids were. But she said nothing. 

"Then, at the Egyptian pyramids,"—he 
said the last three words slowly, so that 
the old woman would understand—"the 
child said to me. If you come here, you 
will find a hidden treasure.' And, just 
as she was about to show me the exact 
location, I woke up. 

Both times." 

The woman was silent for some time. 
Then she again took his hands and 
studied them carefully. 

"I'm not going to charge you anything 
now," she said. "But I want one-tenth 
of the treasure, if you find it." 

The boy laughed—out of happiness. He 
was going to be able to save the little 
money he had because of a dream 
about hidden treasure! 

"Well, interpret the dream," he said. 

"First, swear to me. Swear that you will 
give me one-tenth of your treasure in 
exchange for what I am going to tell 

The shepherd swore that he would. The 
old woman asked him to swear again 
while looking at the image of the 
Sacred Heart of Jesus. 

"It's a dream in the language of the 
world," she said. "I can interpret it, but 
the interpretation is very difficult. 
That's why I feel that I deserve a part 
of what you find. 

"And this is my interpretation: you 
must go to the Pyramids in Egypt. I 
have never heard of them, but, if it was 
a child who showed them to you, they 
exist. There you will find a treasure 
that will make you a rich man." 

The boy was surprised, and then 

irritated. He didn't need to seek out the 
old woman for this! But then he 
remembered that he wasn't going to 
have to pay anything. 

"I didn't need to waste my time just for 
this," he said. 

"I told you that your dream was a 
difficult one. It's the simple things in 
life that are the most extraordinary; 
only wise men are able to understand 
them. And since I am not wise, I have 
had to learn other arts, such as the 
reading of palms." 

"Well, how am I going to get to 

"I only interpret dreams. I don't know 
how to turn them into reality. That's 
why I have to live off what my 
daughters provide me with." 

"And what if I never get to Egypt?" 

"Then I don't get paid. It wouldn't be 
the first time." 

And the woman told the boy to leave, 
saying she had already wasted too 
much time with him. 

So the boy was disappointed; he 
decided that he would never again 
believe in dreams. He remembered that 
he had a number of things he had to 
take care of: he went to the market for 

something to eat, he traded his book for 
one that was thicker, and he found a 
bench in the plaza where he could 
sample the new wine he had bought. 

The day was hot, and the wine was 
refreshing. The sheep were at the gates 
of the city, in a stable that belonged to 
a friend. The boy knew a lot of people 
in the city. That was what made 
traveling appeal to him—he always 
made new friends, and he didn't need to 
spend all of his time with them. 

When someone sees the same people 
every day, as had happened with him at 
the seminary, they wind up becoming a 
part of that person's life. And then they 
want the person to change. If someone 

isn't what others want them to be, the 
others become angry. 

Everyone seems to have a clear idea of 
how other people should lead their 
lives, but none about his or her own. 

He decided to wait until the sun had 
sunk a bit lower in the sky before 
following his flock back through the 
fields. Three days from now, he would 
be with the merchant's daughter. 

He started to read the book he had 
bought. On the very first page it 
described a burial ceremony. And the 
names of the people involved were 
very difficult to pronounce. If he ever 
wrote a book, he thought, he would 

present one person at a time, so that the 
reader wouldn't have to worry about 
memorizing a lot of names. 

When he was finally able to 
concentrate on what he was reading, he 
liked the book better; the burial was on 
a snowy day, and he welcomed the 
feeling of being cold. As he read on, an 
old man sat down at his side and tried 
to strike up a conversation. 

"What are they doing?" the old man 
asked, pointing at the people in the 

"Working," the boy answered dryly, 
making it look as if he wanted to 
concentrate on his reading. 

Actually, he was thinking about 
shearing his sheep in front of the 
merchant's daughter, so that she could 
see that he was someone who was 
capable of doing difficult things. He 
had already imagined the scene many 
times; every time, the girl became 
fascinated when he explained that the 
sheep had to be sheared from back to 
front. He also tried to remember some 
good stories to relate as he sheared the 
sheep. Most of them he had read in 
books, but he would tell them as if they 
were from his personal experience. She 
would never know the difference, 
because she didn't know how to read. 

Meanwhile, the old man persisted in 

his attempt to strike up a conversation. 
He said that he was tired and thirsty, 
and asked if he might have a sip of the 
boy's wine. The boy offered his bottle, 
hoping that the old man would leave 
him alone. 

But the old man wanted to talk, and he 
asked the boy what book he was 
reading. The boy was tempted to be 
rude, and move to another bench, but 
his father had taught him to be 
respectful of the elderly. So he held out 
the book to the man—for two reasons: 
first, that he, himself, wasn't sure how 
to pronounce the title; and second, that 
if the old man didn't know how to read, 
he would probably feel ashamed and 

decide of his own accord to change 

"Hmm..." said the old man, looking at 
all sides of the book, as if it were some 
strange object. "This is an important 
book, but it's really irritating." 

The boy was shocked. The old man 
knew how to read, and had already read 
the book. 

And if the book was irritating, as the 
old man had said, the boy still had time 
to change it for another. 

"It's a book that says the same thing 
almost all the other books in the world 

continued the old man. "It describes 
people's inability to choose their own 
destinies. And it ends up saying that 
everyone believes the world's greatest 

"What's the world's greatest lie?" the 
boy asked, completely surprised. 

"It's this: that at a certain point in our 
lives, we lose control of what's 
happening to us, and our lives become 
controlled by fate. That's the world's 
greatest lie." 

"That's never happened to me," the boy 
said. "They wanted me to be a priest, 
but I decided to become a shepherd." 

"Much better," said the old man. 
"Because you really like to travel." 

"He knew what I was thinking," the boy 
said to himself. The old man, 
meanwhile, was leafing through the 
book, without seeming to want to 
return it at all. The boy noticed that the 
man's clothing was strange. He looked 
like an Arab, which was not unusual in 
those parts. Africa was only a few 
hours from Tarifa; one had only to 
cross the narrow straits by boat. Arabs 
often appeared in the city, shopping 
and chanting their strange prayers 
several times a day. 

"Where are you from?" the boy asked. 

"From many places." 

"No one can be from many places," the 
boy said. "I'm a shepherd, and I have 
been to many places, but I come from 
only one place—from a city near an 
ancient castle. That's where I was 

"Well then, we could say that I was 
born in Salem." 

The boy didn't know where Salem was, 
but he didn't want to ask, fearing that 
he would appear ignorant. He looked at 
the people in the plaza for a while; they 
were coming and going, and all of them 
seemed to be very busy. 

"So, what is Salem like?" he asked, 
trying to get some sort of clue. 

"It's like it always has been." 

No clue yet. But he knew that Salem 
wasn't in Andalusia. If it were, he 
would already have heard of it. 

"And what do you do in Salem?" he 

"What do I do in Salem?" The old man 
laughed. "Well, I'm the king of Salem!" 

People say strange things, the boy 
thought. Sometimes it's better to be 
with the sheep, who don't say anything. 
And better still to be alone with one's 

books. They tell their incredible stories 
at the time when you want to hear 
them. But when you're talking to 
people, they say some things that are so 
strange that you don't know how to 
continue the conversation. 

"My name is Melchizedek," said the 
old man. "How many sheep do you 

"Enough," said the boy. He could see 
that the old man wanted to know more 
about his life. 

"Well, then, we've got a problem. I 
can't help you if you feel you've got 
enough sheep." 

The boy was getting irritated. He 
wasn't asking for help. It was the old 
man who had asked for a drink of his 
wine, and had started the conversation. 

"Give me my book," the boy said. "I 
have to go and gather my sheep and get 

"Give me one-tenth of your sheep," 
said the old man, "and I'll tell you how 
to find the hidden treasure." 

The boy remembered his dream, and 
suddenly everything was clear to him. 
The old woman hadn't charged him 
anything, but the old man—maybe he 
was her husband—was going to find a 
way to get much more money in 

exchange for information about 
something that didn't even exist. The 
old man was probably a Gypsy, too. 

But before the boy could say anything, 
the old man leaned over, picked up a 
stick, and began to write in the sand of 
the plaza. Something bright reflected 
from his chest with such intensity that 
the boy was momentarily blinded. With 
a movement that was too quick for 
someone his age, the man covered 
whatever it was with his cape. When 
his vision returned to normal, the boy 
was able to read what the old man had 
written in the sand. 

There, in the sand of the plaza of that 

small city, the boy read the names of 
his father and his mother and the name 
of the seminary he had attended. He 
read the name of the merchant's 
daughter, which he hadn't even known, 
and he read things he had never told 

"I'm the king of Salem," the old man 
had said. 

"Why would a king be talking with a 
shepherd?" the boy asked, awed and 

"For several reasons. But let's say that 
the most important is that you have 

succeeded in discovering your destiny." 

The boy didn't know what a person's 
"destiny" was. 

"It's what you have always wanted to 
accomplish. Everyone, when they are 
young, knows what their destiny is. 

"At that point in their lives, everything 
is clear and everything is possible. 
They are not afraid to dream, and to 
yearn for everything they would like to 
see happen to them in their lives. But, 
as time passes, a mysterious force 
begins to convince them that it will be 
impossible for them to realize their 

None of what the old man was saying 
made much sense to the boy. But he 
wanted to know what the "mysterious 
force" was; the merchant's daughter 
would be impressed when he told her 
about that! 

"It's a force that appears to be negative, 
but actually shows you how to realize 
your destiny. It prepares your spirit and 
your will, because there is one great 
truth on this planet: whoever you are, 
or whatever it is that you do, when you 
really want something, it's because that 
desire originated in the soul of the 
universe. It's your mission on earth." 

"Even when all you want to do is 

travel? Or marry the daughter of a 
textile merchant?" 

"Yes, or even search for treasure. The 
Soul of the World is nourished by 
people's happiness. And also by 
unhappiness, envy, and jealousy. To 
realize one's destiny is a person's only 
real obligation. All things are one. 

"And, when you want something, all 
the universe conspires in helping you 
to achieve it." 

They were both silent for a time, 
observing the plaza and the 
townspeople. It was the old man who 
spoke first. 

"Why do you tend a flock of sheep?" 

"Because I like to travel." 

The old man pointed to a baker 
standing in his shop window at one 
corner of the plaza. 

"When he was a child, that man wanted 
to travel, too. But he decided first to 
buy his bakery and put some money 
aside. When he's an old man, he's going 
to spend a month in Africa. He never 
realized that people are capable, at any 
time in their lives, of doing what they 
dream of." 

"He should have decided to become a 
shepherd," the boy said. 

"Well, he thought about that," the old 
man said. "But bakers are more 
important people than shepherds. 
Bakers have homes, while shepherds 
sleep out in the open. Parents would 
rather see their children marry bakers 
than shepherds." 

The boy felt a pang in his heart, 
thinking about the merchant's daughter. 
There was surely a baker in her town. 

The old man continued, "In the long 
run, what people think about shepherds 
and bakers becomes more important 
for them than their own destinies." 

The old man leafed through the book, 
and fell to reading a page he came to. 

The boy waited, and then interrupted 
the old man just as he himself had been 
interrupted. "Why are you telling me 
all this?" 

"Because you are trying to realize your 
destiny. And you are at the point where 
you're about to give it all up." 

"And that's when you always appear on 
the scene?" 

"Not always in this way, but I always 
appear in one form or another. 
Sometimes I appear in the form of a 
solution, or a good idea. At other times, 
at a crucial moment, I make it easier 
for things to happen. There are other 
things I do, too, but most of the time 

people don't realize I've done them." 

The old man related that, the week 
before, he had been forced to appear 
before a miner, and had taken the form 
of a stone. The miner had abandoned 
everything to go mining for emeralds. 
For five years he had been working a 
certain river, and had examined 
hundreds of thousands of stones 
looking for an emerald. The miner was 
about to give it all up, right at the point 
when, if he were to examine just one 
more stone—just one more —he would 
find his emerald. Since the miner had 
sacrificed everything to his destiny, the 
old man decided to become involved. 
He transformed himself into a stone 

that rolled up to the miner's foot. The 
miner, with all the anger and 
frustration of his five fruitless years, 
picked up the stone and threw it aside. 
But he had thrown it with such force 
that it broke the stone it fell upon, and 
there, embedded in the broken stone, 
was the most beautiful emerald in the 

"People learn, early in their lives, what 
is their reason for being," said the old 
man, with a certain bitterness. "Maybe 
that's why they give up on it so early, 
too. But that's the way it is." 

The boy reminded the old man that he 
had said something about hidden 


"Treasure is uncovered by the force of 
flowing water, and it is buried by the 
same currents," said the old man. "If 
you want to learn about your own 
treasure, you will have to give me one- 
tenth of your flock." 

"What about one-tenth of my 

The old man looked disappointed. "If 
you start out by promising what you 
don't even have yet, you'll lose your 
desire to work toward getting it." 

The boy told him that he had already 
promised to give one-tenth of his 

treasure to the Gypsy. 

"Gypsies are experts at getting people 
to do that," sighed the old man. "In any 
case, it's good that you've learned that 
everything in life has its price. This is 
what the Warriors of the Light try to 

The old man returned the book to the 

"Tomorrow, at this same time, bring 
me a tenth of your flock. And I will tell 
you how to find the hidden treasure. 
Good afternoon." 

And he vanished around the corner of 
the plaza. 

The boy began again to read his book, 
but he was no longer able to 
concentrate. He was tense and upset, 
because he knew that the old man was 
right. He went over to the bakery and 
bought a loaf of bread, thinking about 
whether or not he should tell the baker 
what the old man had said about him. 
Sometimes it's better to leave things as 
they are, he thought to himself, and 
decided to say nothing. If he were to 
say anything, the baker would spend 
three days thinking about giving it all 
up, even though he had gotten used to 
the way things were. The boy could 
certainly resist causing that kind of 

anxiety for the baker. So he began to 
wander through the city, and found 
himself at the gates. There was a small 
building there, with a window at which 
people bought tickets to Africa. And he 
knew that Egypt was in Africa. 

"Can I help you?" asked the man 
behind the window. 

"Maybe tomorrow," said the boy, 
moving away. If he sold just one of his 
sheep, he'd have enough to get to the 
other shore of the strait. The idea 
frightened him. 

"Another dreamer," said the ticket 
seller to his assistant, watching the boy 
walk away. 

"He doesn't have enough money to 

While standing at the ticket window, 
the boy had remembered his flock, and 
decided he should go back to being a 
shepherd. In two years he had learned 
everything about shepherding: he knew 
how to shear sheep, how to care for 
pregnant ewes, and how to protect the 
sheep from wolves. He knew all the 
fields and pastures of Andalusia. And 
he knew what was the fair price for 
every one of his animals. 

He decided to return to his friend's 
stable by the longest route possible. As 
he walked past the city's castle, he 

interrupted his return, and climbed the 
stone ramp that led to the top of the 
wall. From there, he could see Africa in 
the distance. Someone had once told 
him that it was from there that the 
Moors had come, to occupy all of 

He could see almost the entire city 
from where he sat, including the plaza 
where he had talked with the old man. 
Curse the moment I met that old man, 
he thought. He had come to the town 
only to find a woman who could 
interpret his dream. Neither the woman 
nor the old man were at all impressed 
by the fact that he was a shepherd. 

They were solitary individuals who no 

longer believed in things, and didn't 
understand that shepherds become 
attached to their sheep. He knew 
everything about each member of his 
flock: he knew which ones were lame, 
which one was to give birth two 
months from now, and which were the 
laziest. He knew how to shear them, 
and how to slaughter them. If he ever 
decided to leave them, they would 

The wind began to pick up. He knew 
that wind: people called it the levanter, 
because on it the Moors had come from 
the Levant at the eastern end of the 

The levanter increased in intensity. 
Here I am, between my flock and my 
treasure, the boy thought. He had to 
choose between something he had 
become accustomed to and something 
he wanted to have. There was also the 
merchant's daughter, but she wasn't as 
important as his flock, because she 
didn't depend on him. Maybe she didn't 
even remember him. He was sure that 
it made no difference to her on which 
day he appeared: for her, every day was 
the same, and when each day is the 
same as the next, it's because people 
fail to recognize the good things that 
happen in their lives every day that the 
sun rises. 

I left my father, my mother, and the 
town castle behind. They have gotten 
used to my being away, and so have I. 
The sheep will get used to my not 
being there, too, the boy thought. 

From where he sat, he could observe 
the plaza. People continued to come 
and go from the baker's shop. A young 
couple sat on the bench where he had 
talked with the old man, and they 

"That baker..." he said to himself, 
without completing the thought. The 
levanter was still getting stronger, and 
he felt its force on his face. That wind 
had brought the Moors, yes, but it had 

also brought the smell of the desert and 
of veiled women. It had brought with it 
the sweat and the dreams of men who 
had once left to search for the 
unknown, and for gold and adventure— 
and for the Pyramids. The boy felt 
jealous of the freedom of the wind, and 
saw that he could have the same 
freedom. There was nothing to hold 
him back except himself. The sheep, 
the merchant's daughter, and the fields 
of Andalusia were only steps along the 
way to his destiny. 

The next day, the boy met the old man 
at noon. He brought six sheep with 

"I'm surprised," the boy said. "My 
friend bought all the other sheep 
immediately. He said that he had 
always dreamed of being a shepherd, 
and that it was a good omen." 

"That's the way it always is," said the 
old man. "It's called the principle of 

When you play cards the first time, you 
are almost sure to win. Beginner's 

"Why is that?" 

"Because there is a force that wants 
you to realize your destiny; it whets 
your appetite with a taste of success." 

Then the old man began to inspect the 
sheep, and he saw that one was lame. 
The boy explained that it wasn't 
important, since that sheep was the 
most intelligent of the flock, and 
produced the most wool. 

"Where is the treasure?" he asked. 

"It's in Egypt, near the Pyramids." 

The boy was startled. The old woman 
had said the same thing. But she hadn't 
charged him anything. 

"In order to find the treasure, you will 
have to follow the omens. God has 
prepared a path for everyone to follow. 
You just have to read the omens that he 

left for you." 

Before the boy could reply, a butterfly 
appeared and fluttered between him 
and the old man. He remembered 
something his grandfather had once 
told him: that butterflies were a good 
omen. Like crickets, and like 
expectations; like lizards and four-leaf 

"That's right," said the old man, able to 
read the boy's thoughts. "Just as your 
grandfather taught you. These are good 

The old man opened his cape, and the 
boy was struck by what he saw. The old 
man wore a breastplate of heavy gold, 

covered with precious stones. The boy 
recalled the brilliance he had noticed 
on the previous day. 

He really was a king! He must be 
disguised to avoid encounters with 

"Take these," said the old man, holding 
out a white stone and a black stone that 
had been embedded at the center of the 
breastplate. "They are called Urim and 
Thummim. The black signifies 'yes,' 
and the white 'no.' When you are 
unable to read the omens, they will 
help you to do so. Always ask an 
objective question. 

"But, if you can, try to make your own 

decisions. The treasure is at the 
Pyramids; that you already knew. But I 
had to insist on the payment of six 
sheep because I helped you to make 
your decision." 

The boy put the stones in his pouch. 
From then on, he would make his own 

"Don't forget that everything you deal 
with is only one thing and nothing else. 
And don't forget the language of 
omens. And, above all, don't forget to 
follow your destiny through to its 

"But before I go, I want to tell you a 
little story. 

"A certain shopkeeper sent his son to 
learn about the secret of happiness 
from the wisest man in the world. The 
lad wandered through the desert for 
forty days, and finally came upon a 
beautiful castle, high atop a mountain. 
It was there that the wise man lived. 

"Rather than finding a saintly man, 
though, our hero, on entering the main 
room of the castle, saw a hive of 
activity: tradesmen came and went, 
people were conversing in the corners, 
a small orchestra was playing soft 
music, and there was a table covered 
with platters of the most delicious food 
in that part of the world. The wise man 
conversed with everyone, and the boy 

had to wait for two hours before it was 
his turn to be given the man's attention. 

"The wise man listened attentively to 
the boy's explanation of why he had 
come, but told him that he didn't have 
time just then to explain the secret of 
happiness. He suggested that the boy 
look around the palace and return in 
two hours. 

" 'Meanwhile, I want to ask you to do 
something,' said the wise man, handing 
the boy a teaspoon that held two drops 
of oil. 'As you wander around, carry 
this spoon with you without allowing 
the oill to spill.' 

"The boy began climbing and 

descending the many stairways of the 
palace, keeping his eyes fixed on the 
spoon. After two hours, he returned to 
the room where the wise man was. 

" 'Well,' asked the wise man, 'did you 
see the Persian tapestries that are 
hanging in my dining hall? Did you see 
the garden that it took the master 
gardener ten years to create? 

Did you notice the beautiful 
parchments in my library?' 

"The boy was embarrassed, and 
confessed that he had observed 
nothing. His only concern had been not 
to spill the oill that the wise man had 
entrusted to him. 

" 'Then go back and observe the 
marvels of my world,' said the wise 
man. 'You cannot trust a man if you 
don't know his house.' 

"Relieved, the boy picked up the spoon 
and returned to his exploration of the 
palace, this time observing all of the 
works of art on the ceilings and the 
walls. He saw the gardens, the 
mountains all around him, the beauty 
of the flowers, and the taste with which 
everything had been selected. Upon 
returning to the wise man, he related in 
detail everything he had seen. 

" 'But where are the drops of oill I 
entrusted to you?' asked the wise man. 

"Looking down at the spoon he held, 
the boy saw that the oill was gone. 

" 'Well, there is only one piece of 
advice I can give you,' said the wisest 
of wise men. 

'The secret of happiness is to see all the 
marvels of the world, and never to 
forget the drops of oill on the spoon.'" 

The shepherd said nothing. He had 
understood the story the old king had 
told him. A shepherd may like to 
travel, but he should never forget about 
his sheep. 

The old man looked at the boy and, 
with his hands held together, made 

several strange gestures over the boy's 
head. Then, taking his sheep, he walked 


At the highest point in Tarifa there is 
an old fort, built by the Moors. From 
atop its walls, one can catch a glimpse 
of Africa. Melchizedek, the king of 
Salem, sat on the wall of the fort that 
afternoon, and felt the levanter blowing 
in his face. The sheep fidgeted nearby, 
uneasy with their new owner and 
excited by so much change. All they 
wanted was food and water. 

Melchizedek watched a small ship that 
was plowing its way out of the port. He 

would never again see the boy, just as 
he had never seen Abraham again after 
having charged him his one-tenth fee. 
That was his work. 

The gods should not have desires, 
because they don't have destinies. But 
the king of Salem hoped desperately 
that the boy would be successful. 

It's too bad that he's quickly going to 
forget my name, he thought. I should 
have repeated it for him. Then when he 
spoke about me he would say that I am 
Melchizedek, the king of Salem. 

He looked to the skies, feeling a bit 
abashed, and said, "I know it's the 
vanity of vanities, as you said, my 

Lord. But an old king sometimes has to 
take some pride in himself." 


How strange Africa is, thought the boy. 

He was sitting in a bar very much like 
the other bars he had seen along the 
narrow streets of Tangier. Some men 
were smoking from a gigantic pipe that 
they passed from one to the other. In 
just a few hours he had seen men 
walking hand in hand, women with 
their faces covered, and priests that 
climbed to the tops of towers and 
chanted—as everyone about him went 
to their knees and placed their 
foreheads on the ground. 

"A practice of infidels," he said to 
himself. As a child in church, he had 
always looked at the image of Saint 
Santiago Matamoros on his white 
horse, his sword unsheathed, and 
figures such as these kneeling at his 
feet. The boy felt ill and terribly alone. 
The infidels had an evil look about 

Besides this, in the rush of his travels 
he had forgotten a detail, just one 
detail, which could keep him from his 
treasure for a long time: only Arabic 
was spoken in this country. 

The owner of the bar approached him, 
and the boy pointed to a drink that had 

been served at the next table. It turned 
out to be a bitter tea. The boy preferred 

But he didn't need to worry about that 
right now. What he had to be concerned 
about was his treasure, and how he was 
going to go about getting it. The sale of 
his sheep had left him with enough 
money in his pouch, and the boy knew 
that in money there was magic; 
whoever has money is never really 
alone. Before long, maybe in just a few 
days, he would be at the Pyramids. An 
old man, with a breastplate of gold, 
wouldn't have lied just to acquire six 

The old man had spoken about signs 
and omens, and, as the boy was 
crossing the strait, he had thought 
about omens. Yes, the old man had 
known what he was talking about: 
during the time the boy had spent in the 
fields of Andalusia, he had become 
used to learning which path he should 
take by observing the ground and the 
sky. He had discovered that the 
presence of a certain bird meant that a 
snake was nearby, and that a certain 
shrub was a sign that there was water in 
the area. The sheep had taught him 

If God leads the sheep so well, he will 
also lead a man, he thought, and that 

made him feel better. The tea seemed 
less bitter. 

"Who are you?" he heard a voice ask 
him in Spanish. 

The boy was relieved. He was thinking 
about omens, and someone had 

"How come you speak Spanish?" he 
asked. The new arrival was a young 
man in Western dress, but the color of 
his skin suggested he was from this 
city. He was about the same age and 
height as the boy. 

"Almost everyone here speaks Spanish. 
We're only two hours from Spain." 

"Sit down, and let me treat you to 
something," said the boy. "And ask for 
a glass of wine for me. I hate this tea." 

"There is no wine in this country," the 
young man said. "The religion here 
forbids it." 

The boy told him then that he needed to 
get to the Pyramids. He almost began 
to tell about his treasure, but decided 
not to do so. If he did, it was possible 
that the Arab would want a part of it as 
payment for taking him there. He 
remembered what the old man had said 
about offering something you didn't 
even have yet. 

"I'd like you to take me there if you 

can. I can pay you to serve as my 

"Do you have any idea how to get 
there?" the newcomer asked. 

The boy noticed that the owner of the 
bar stood nearby, listening attentively 
to their conversation. He felt uneasy at 
the man's presence. But he had found a 
guide, and didn't want to miss out on an 

"You have to cross the entire Sahara 
desert," said the young man. "And to do 
that, you need money. I need to know 
whether you have enough." 

The boy thought it a strange question. 

But he trusted in the old man, who had 
said that, when you really want 
something, the universe always 
conspires in your favor. 

He took his money from his pouch and 
showed it to the young man. The owner 
of the bar came over and looked, as 
well. The two men exchanged some 
words in Arabic, and the bar owner 
seemed irritated. 

"Let's get out of here" said the new 
arrival. "He wants us to leave." 

The boy was relieved. He got up to pay 
the bill, but the owner grabbed him and 
began to speak to him in an angry 
stream of words. The boy was strong. 

and wanted to retaliate, but he was in a 
foreign country. His new friend pushed 
the owner aside, and pulled the boy 
outside with him. "He wanted your 
money," he said. "Tangier is not like 
the rest of Africa. This is a port, and 
every port has its thieves." 

The boy trusted his new friend. He had 
helped him out in a dangerous 
situation. He took out his money and 
counted it. 

"We could get to the Pyramids by 
tomorrow," said the other, taking the 
money. "But I have to buy two camels." 

They walked together through the 
narrow streets of Tangier. Everywhere 

there were stalls with items for sale. 
They reached the center of a large 
plaza where the market was held. 

There were thousands of people there, 
arguing, selling, and buying; 
vegetables for sale amongst daggers, 
and carpets displayed alongside 
tobacco. But the boy never took his eye 
off his new friend. After all, he had all 
his money. He thought about asking 
him to give it back, but decided that 
would be unfriendly. He knew nothing 
about the customs of the strange land 
he was in. 

"I'll just watch him," he said to 
himself. He knew he was stronger than 

his friend. 

Suddenly, there in the midst of all that 
confusion, he saw the most beautiful 
sword he had ever seen. The scabbard 
was embossed in silver, and the handle 
was black and encrusted with precious 
stones. The boy promised himself that, 
when he returned from Egypt, he would 
buy that sword. 

"Ask the owner of that stall how much 
the sword costs," he said to his friend. 
Then he realized that he had been 
distracted for a few moments, looking 
at the sword. His heart squeezed, as if 
his chest had suddenly compressed it. 
He was afraid to look around, because 

he knew what he would find. He 
continued to look at the beautiful 
sword for a bit longer, until he 
summoned the courage to turn around. 

All around him was the market, with 
people coming and going, shouting and 
buying, and the aroma of strange 
foods... but nowhere could he find his 
new companion. 

The boy wanted to believe that his 
friend had simply become separated 
from him by accident. He decided to 
stay right there and await his return. As 
he waited, a priest climbed to the top of 
a nearby tower and began his chant; 
everyone in the market fell to their 

knees, touched their foreheads to the 
ground, and took up the chant. Then, 
like a colony of worker ants, they 
dismantled their stalls and left. 

The sun began its departure, as well. 
The boy watched it through its 
trajectory for some time, until it was 
hidden behind the white houses 
surrounding the plaza. He recalled that 
when the sun had risen that morning, 
he was on another continent, still a 
shepherd with sixty sheep, and looking 
forward to meeting with a girl. That 
morning he had known everything that 
was going to happen to him as he 
walked through the familiar fields. But 
now, as the sun began to set, he was in 

a different country, a stranger in a 
strange land, where he couldn't even 
speak the language. He was no longer a 
shepherd, and he had nothing, not even 
the money to return and start 
everything over. 

All this happened between sunrise and 
sunset, the boy thought. He was feeling 
sorry for himself, and lamenting the 
fact that his life could have changed so 
suddenly and so drastically. 

He was so ashamed that he wanted to 
cry. He had never even wept in front of 
his own sheep. But the marketplace 
was empty, and he was far from home, 
so he wept. He wept because God was 

unfair, and because this was the way 
God repaid those who believed in their 

When I had my sheep, I was happy, and 
I made those around me happy. People 
saw me coming and welcomed me, he 
thought. But now I'm sad and alone. 

I'm going to become bitter and 
distrustful of people because one 
person betrayed me. I'm going to hate 
those who have found their treasure 
because I never found mine. And I'm 
going to hold on to what little I have, 
because I'm too insignificant to 
conquer the world. 

He opened his pouch to see what was 

left of his possessions; maybe there 
was a bit left of the sandwich he had 
eaten on the ship. But all he found was 
the heavy book, his jacket, and the two 
stones the old man had given him. 

As he looked at the stones, he felt 
relieved for some reason. He had 
exchanged six sheep for two precious 
stones that had been taken from a gold 
breastplate. He could sell the stones 
and buy a return ticket. But this time 
I'll be smarter, the boy thought, 
removing them from the pouch so he 
could put them in his pocket. This was 
a port town, and the only truthful thing 
his friend had told him was that port 
towns are full of thieves. 

Now he understood why the owner of 
the bar had been so upset: he was 
trying to tell him not to trust that man. 
"I'm like everyone else—I see the 
world in terms of what I would like to 
see happen, not what actually does." 

He ran his fingers slowly over the 
stones, sensing their temperature and 
feeling their surfaces. They were his 
treasure. Just handling them made him 
feel better. They reminded him of the 
old man. 

"When you want something, all the 
universe conspires in helping you to 
achieve it," he had said. 

The boy was trying to understand the 

truth of what the old man had said. 
There he was in the empty 
marketplace, without a cent to his 
name, and with not a sheep to guard 
through the night. But the stones were 
proof that he had met with a king—a 
king who knew of the boy's past. 

"They're called Urim and Thummim, 
and they can help you to read the 
omens." The boy put the stones back in 
the pouch and decided to do an 
experiment. The old man had said to 
ask very clear questions, and to do that, 
the boy had to know what he wanted. 
So, he asked if the old man's blessing 
was still with him. 

He took out one of the stones. It was 

"Am I going to find my treasure?" he 

He stuck his hand into the pouch, and 
felt around for one of the stones. As he 
did so, both of them pushed through a 
hole in the pouch and fell to the 
ground. The boy had never even 
noticed that there was a hole in his 
pouch. He knelt down to find Urim and 
Thummim and put them back in the 
pouch. But as he saw them lying there 
on the ground, another phrase came to 
his mind. 

"Learn to recognize omens, and follow 

them," the old king had said. 

An omen. The boy smiled to himself. 
He picked np the two stones and put 
them back in his pouch. He didn't 
consider mending the hole—the stones 
could fall through any time they 
wanted. He had learned that there were 
certain things one shouldn't ask about, 
so as not to flee from one's own 
destiny. "I promised that I would make 
my own decisions," he said to himself. 

But the stones had told him that the old 
man was still with him, and that made 
him feel more confident. He looked 
around at the empty plaza again, 
feeling less desperate than before. This 

wasn't a strange place; it was a new 

After all, what he had always wanted 
was just that: to know new places. Even 
if he never got to the Pyramids, he had 
already traveled farther than any 
shepherd he knew. Oh, if they only 
knew how different things are just two 
hours by ship from where they are, he 
thought. Although his new world at the 
moment was just an empty 
marketplace, he had already seen it 
when it was teeming with life, and he 
would never forget it. He remembered 
the sword. It hurt him a bit to think 
about it, but he had never seen one like 
it before. As he mused about these 

things, he realized that he had to 
choose between thinking of himself as 
the poor victim of a thief and as an 
adventurer in quest of his treasure. 

"I'm an adventurer, looking for 
treasure," he said to himself. 

He was shaken into wakefulness by 
someone. He had fallen asleep in the 
middle of the marketplace, and life in 
the plaza was about to resume. 

Looking around, he sought his sheep, 
and then realized that he was in a new 
world. But instead of being saddened, 
he was happy. He no longer had to seek 

out food and water for the sheep; he 
could go in search of his treasure, 
instead. He had not a cent in his pocket, 
but he had faith. He had decided, the 
night before, that he would be as much 
an adventurer as the ones he had 
admired in books. 

He walked slowly through the market. 
The merchants were assembling their 
stalls, and the boy helped a candy seller 
to do his. The candy seller had a smile 
on his face: he was happy, aware of 
what his life was about, and ready to 
begin a day's work. His smile reminded 
the boy of the old man—the mysterious 
old king he had met. "This candy 
merchant isn't making candy so that 

later he can travel or marry a 
shopkeeper's daughter. 

He's doing it because it's what he wants 
to do," thought the boy. He realized 
that he could do the same thing the old 
man had done—sense whether a person 
was near to or far from his destiny. Just 
by looking at them. It's easy, and yet 
I've never done it before, he thought. 

When the stall was assembled, the 
candy seller offered the boy the first 
sweet he had made for the day. The boy 
thanked him, ate it, and went on his 
way. When he had gone only a short 
distance, he realized that, while they 
were erecting the stall, one of them had 

spoken Arabic and the other Spanish. 

And they had understood each other 
perfectly well. 

There must be a language that doesn't 
depend on words, the boy thought. I've 
already had that experience with my 
sheep, and now it's happening with 

He was learning a lot of new things. 
Some of them were things that he had 
already experienced, and weren't really 
new, but that he had never perceived 
before. And he hadn't perceived them 
because he had become accustomed to 
them. He realized: If I can learn to 
understand this language without 

words, I can learn to understand the 

Relaxed and unhurried, he resolved that 
he would walk through the narrow 
streets of Tangier. Only in that way 
would he be able to read the omens. He 
knew it would require a lot of patience, 
but shepherds know all about patience. 
Once again he saw that, in that strange 
land, he was applying the same lessons 
he had learned with his sheep. 

"All things are one," the old man had 

The crystal merchant awoke with the 

day, and felt the same anxiety that he 
felt every morning. He had been in the 
same place for thirty years: a shop at 
the top of a hilly street where few 
customers passed. Now it was too late 
to change anything—the only thing he 
had ever learned to do was to buy and 
sell crystal glassware. There had been a 
time when many people knew of his 
shop: Arab merchants, French and 
English geologists, German soldiers 
who were always well-heeled. In those 
days it had been wonderful to be 
selling crystal, and he had thought how 
he would become rich, and have 
beautiful women at his side as he grew 

But, as time passed, Tangier had 
changed. The nearby city of Ceuta had 
grown faster than Tangier, and business 
had fallen off. Neighbors moved away, 
and there remained only a few small 
shops on the hill. And no one was 
going to climb the hill just to browse 
through a few small shops. 

But the crystal merchant had no choice. 
He had lived thirty years of his life 
buying and selling crystal pieces, and 
now it was too late to do anything else. 

He spent the entire morning observing 
the infrequent comings and goings in 
the street. 

He had done this for years, and knew 

the schedule of everyone who passed. 
But, just before lunchtime, a boy 
stopped in front of the shop. He was 
dressed normally, but the practiced 
eyes of the crystal merchant could see 
that the boy had no money to spend. 

Nevertheless, the merchant decided to 
delay his lunch for a few minutes until 
the boy moved on. 

A card hanging in the doorway 
announced that several languages were 
spoken in the shop. 

The boy saw a man appear behind the 

"I can clean up those glasses in the 
window, if you want," said the boy. 
"The way they look now, nobody is 
going to want to buy them." 

The man looked at him without 

"In exchange, you could give me 
something to eat." 

The man still said nothing, and the boy 
sensed that he was going to have to 
make a decision. In his pouch, he had 
his jacket—he certainly wasn't going to 
need it in the desert. Taking the jacket 
out, he began to clean the glasses. In 
half an hour, he had cleaned all the 
glasses in the window, and, as he was 

doing so, two customers had entered 
the shop and bought some crystal. 

When he had completed the cleaning, 
he asked the man for something to eat. 
"Let's go and have some lunch," said 
the crystal merchant. 

He put a sign on the door, and they 
went to a small cafe nearby. As they sat 
down at the only table in the place, the 
crystal merchant laughed. 

"You didn't have to do any cleaning," 
he said. "The Koran requires me to feed 
a hungry person." 

"Well then, why did you let me do it?" 
the boy asked. 

"Because the crystal was dirty. And 
both you and I needed to cleanse our 
minds of negative thoughts." 

When they had eaten, the merchant 
turned to the boy and said, "I'd like you 
to work in my shop. Two customers 
came in today while you were working, 
and that's a good omen." 

People talk a lot about omens, thought 
the shepherd. But they really don't 
know what they're saying. Just as I 
hadn't realized that for so many years I 
had been speaking a language without 
words to my sheep. 

"Do you want to go to work for me?" 
the merchant asked. 

"I can work for the rest of today," the 
boy answered. "I'll work all night, until 
dawn, and I'll clean every piece of 
crystal in your shop. In return, I need 
money to get to Egypt tomorrow." 

The merchant laughed. "Even if you 
cleaned my crystal for an entire year... 
even if you earned a good commission 
selling every piece, you would still 
have to borrow money to get to Egypt. 
There are thousands of kilometers of 
desert between here and there." 

There was a moment of silence so 
profound that it seemed the city was 
asleep. No sound from the bazaars, no 
arguments among the merchants, no 

men climbing to the towers to chant. 

No hope, no adventure, no old kings or 
destinies, no treasure, and no Pyramids. 
It was as if the world had fallen silent 
because the boy's soul had. He sat 
there, staring blankly through the door 
of the cafe, wishing that he had died, 
and that everything would end forever 
at that moment. 

The merchant looked anxiously at the 
boy. All the joy he had seen that 
morning had suddenly disappeared. 

"I can give you the money you need to 
get back to your country, my son," said 
the crystal merchant. 

The boy said nothing. He got up. 

adjusted his clothing, and picked up his 

"I'll work for you," he said. 

And after another long silence, he 
added, "I need money to buy some 


The boy had been working for the 
crystal merchant for almost a month, 
and he could see that it wasn't exactly 
the kind of job that would make him 
happy. The merchant spent the entire 
day mumbling behind the counter, 
telling the boy to be careful with the 
pieces and not to break anything. 

But he stayed with the job because the 
merchant, although he was an old 
grouch, treated him fairly; the boy 
received a good commission for each 
piece he sold, and had already been 
able to put some money aside. That 

morning he had done some calculating: 
if he continued to work every day as he 
had been, he would need a whole year 
to be able to buy some sheep. 

"I'd like to build a display case for the 
crystal," the boy said to the merchant. 
"We could place it outside, and attract 
those people who pass at the bottom of 
the hill." 

"I've never had one before," the 
merchant answered. "People will pass 
by and bump into it, and pieces will be 

"Well, when I took my sheep through 
the fields some of them might have 
died if we had come upon a snake. But 

that's the way life is with sheep and 
with shepherds." 

The merchant turned to a customer who 
wanted three crystal glasses. He was 
selling better than ever... as if time had 
turned back to the old days when the 
street had been one of Tangier's major 

"Business has really improved," he said 
to the boy, after the customer had left. 
"I'm doing much better, and soon you'll 
be able to return to your sheep. Why 
ask more out of life?" 

"Because we have to respond to 
omens," the boy said, almost without 
meaning to; then he regretted what he 

had said, because the merchant had 
never met the king. 

"It's called the principle of favorability, 
beginner's luck. Because life wants you 
to achieve your destiny," the old king 
had said. 

But the merchant understood what the 
boy had said. The boy's very presence 
in the shop was an omen, and, as time 
passed and money was pouring into the 
cash drawer, he had no regrets about 
having hired the boy. The boy was 
being paid more money than he 
deserved, because the merchant, 
thinking that sales wouldn't amount to 
much, had offered the boy a high 

commission rate. He had assumed he 
would soon return to his sheep. 

"Why did you want to get to the 
Pyramids?" he asked, to get away from 
the business of the display. 

"Because I've always heard about 
them," the boy answered, saying 
nothing about his dream. The treasure 
was now nothing but a painful memory, 
and he tried to avoid thinking about it. 

"I don't know anyone around here who 
would want to cross the desert just to 
see the Pyramids," said the merchant. 
"They're just a pile of stones. You 
could build one in your backyard." 

"You've never had dreams of travel," 
said the boy, turning to wait on a 
customer who had entered the shop. 

Two days later, the merchant spoke to 
the boy about the display. 

"I don't much like change," he said. 
"You and I aren't like Hassan, that rich 
merchant. If he makes a buying 
mistake, it doesn't affect him much. 

But we two have to live with our 

That's true enough, the boy thought, 

"Why did you think we should have the 

"I want to get back to my sheep faster. 
We have to take advantage when luck 
is on our side, and do as much to help it 
as it's doing to help us. It's called the 
principle of favorability. Or beginner's 

The merchant was silent for a few 
moments. Then he said, "The Prophet 
gave us the Koran, and left us just five 
obligations to satisfy during our lives. 
The most important is to believe only 
in the one true God. The others are to 
pray five times a day, fast during 
Ramadan, and be charitable to the 

He stopped there. His eyes filled with 

tears as he spoke of the Prophet. He 
was a devout man, and, even with all 
his impatience, he wanted to live his 
life in accordance with Muslim law. 

"What's the fifth obligation?" the boy 

"Two days ago, you said that I had 
never dreamed of travel," the merchant 

"The fifth obligation of every Muslim 
is a pilgrimage. We are obliged, at 
least once in our lives, to visit the holy 
city of Mecca. 

"Mecca is a lot farther away than the 
Pyramids. When I was young, all I 

wanted to do was put together enough 
money to start this shop. I thought that 
someday I'd be rich, and could go to 
Mecca. I began to make some money, 
but I could never bring myself to leave 
someone in charge of the shop; the 
crystals are delicate things. At the 
same time, people were passing my 
shop all the time, heading for Mecca. 
Some of them were rich pilgrims, 
traveling in caravans with servants and 
camels, but most of the people making 
the pilgrimage were poorer than I. 

"All who went there were happy at 
having done so. They placed the 
symbols of the pilgrimage on the doors 
of their houses. One of them, a cobbler 

who made his living mending boots, 
said that he had traveled for almost a 
year through the desert, but that he got 
more tired when he had to walk 
through the streets of Tangier buying 
his leather." 

"Well, why don't you go to Mecca 
now?" asked the boy. 

"Because it's the thought of Mecca that 
keeps me alive. That's what helps me 
face these days that are all the same, 
these mute crystals on the shelves, and 
lunch and dinner at that same horrible 
cafe. I'm afraid that if my dream is 
realized. I'll have no reason to go on 

"You dream about your sheep and the 
Pyramids, but you're different from 
me, because you want to realize your 
dreams. I just want to dream about 
Mecca. I've already imagined a 
thousand times crossing the desert, 
arriving at the Plaza of the Sacred 
Stone, the seven times I walk around it 
before allowing myself to touch it. I've 
already imagined the people who 
would be at my side, and those in front 
of me, and the conversations and 
prayers we would share. But I'm afraid 
that it would all be a disappointment, 
so I prefer just to dream about it." 

That day, the merchant gave the boy 
permission to build the display. Not 

everyone can see his dreams come true 
in the same way. 


Two more months passed, and the shelf 
brought many customers into the 
crystal shop. 

The boy estimated that, if he worked 
for six more months, he could return to 
Spain and buy sixty sheep, and yet 
another sixty. In less than a year, he 
would have doubled his flock, and he 
would be able to do business with the 
Arabs, because he was now able to 
speak their strange language. Since that 
morning in the marketplace, he had 
never again made use of Urim and 

Thummim, because Egypt was now just 
as distant a dream for him as was 
Mecca for the merchant. Anyway, the 
boy had become happy in his work, and 
thought all the time about the day when 
he would disembark at Tarifa as a 

"You must always know what it is that 
you want," the old king had said. The 
boy knew, and was now working 
toward it. Maybe it was his treasure to 
have wound up in that strange land, 
met up with a thief, and doubled the 
size of his flock without spending a 

He was proud of himself. He had 

learned some important things, like 
how to deal in crystal, and about the 
language without words... and about 
omens. One afternoon he had seen a 
man at the top of the hill, complaining 
that it was impossible to find a decent 
place to get something to drink after 
such a climb. The boy, accustomed to 
recognizing omens, spoke to the 

"Let's sell tea to the people who climb 
the hill." 

"Lots of places sell tea around here," 
the merchant said. 

"But we could sell tea in crystal 
glasses. The people will enjoy the tea 

and want to buy the glasses. I have 
been told that beauty is the great 
seducer of men." 

The merchant didn't respond, but that 
afternoon, after saying his prayers and 
closing the shop, he invited the boy to 
sit with him and share his hookah, that 
strange pipe used by the Arabs. 

"What is it you're looking for?" asked 
the old merchant. 

"I've already told you. I need to buy my 
sheep back, so I have to earn the money 
to do so." 

The merchant put some new coals in 
the hookah, and inhaled deeply. 

"I've had this shop for thirty years. I 
know good crystal from bad, and 
everything else there is to know about 
crystal. I know its dimensions and how 
it behaves. If we serve tea in crystal, 
the shop is going to expand. And then 
I'll have to change my way of life." 

"Well, isn't that good?" 

"I'm already used to the way things are. 
Before you came, I was thinking about 
how much time I had wasted in the 
same place, while my friends had 
moved on, and either went bankrupt or 
did better than they had before. It made 
me very depressed. Now, I can see that 
it hasn't been too bad. The shop is 

exactly the size I always wanted it to 
be. I don't want to change anything, 
because I don't know how to deal with 
change. I'm used to the way I am." 

The boy didn't know what to say. The 
old man continued, "You have been a 
real blessing to me. Today, I 
understand something I didn't see 
before: every blessing ignored becomes 
a curse. I don't want anything else in 
life. But you are forcing me to look at 
wealth and at horizons I have never 
known. Now that I have seen them, and 
now that I see how immense my 
possibilities are, I'm going to feel 
worse than I did before you arrived. 

Because I know the things I should be 
able to accomplish, and I don't want to 
do so." 

It's good I refrained from saying 
anything to the baker in Tarifa, thought 
the boy to himself. 

They went on smoking the pipe for a 
while as the sun began to set. They 
were conversing in Arabic, and the boy 
was proud of himself for being able to 
do so. There had been a time when he 
thought that his sheep could teach him 
everything he needed to know about the 
world. But they could never have 
taught him Arabic. 

There are probably other things in the 

world that the sheep can't teach me, 
thought the boy as he regarded the old 
merchant. All they ever do, really, is 
look for food and water. 

And maybe it wasn't that they were 
teaching me, but that I was learning 
from them. 

" Maktub," the merchant said, finally. 

"What does that mean?" 

"You would have to have been born an 
Arab to understand," he answered. "But 
in your language it would be something 
like 'It is written.' " 

And, as he smothered the coals in the 

hookah, he told the boy that he could 
begin to sell tea in the crystal glasses. 
Sometimes, there's just no way to hold 
back the river. 


The men climbed the hill, and they 
were tired when they reached the top. 
But there they saw a crystal shop that 
offered refreshing mint tea. They went 
in to drink the tea, which was served in 
beautiful crystal glasses. 

"My wife never thought of this," said 
one, and he bought some crystal—he 
was entertaining guests that night, and 
the guests would be impressed by the 
beauty of the glassware. The other man 

remarked that tea was always more 
delicious when it was served in crystal, 
because the aroma was retained. The 
third said that it was a tradition in the 
Orient to use crystal glasses for tea 
because it had magical powers. 

Before long, the news spread, and a 
great many people began to climb the 
hill to see the shop that was doing 
something new in a trade that was so 
old. Other shops were opened that 
served tea in crystal, but they weren't at 
the top of a hill, and they had little 

Eventually, the merchant had to hire 
two more employees. He began to 

import enormous quantities of tea, 
along with his crystal, and his shop was 
sought out by men and women with a 
thirst for things new. 

And, in that way, the months passed. 


The boy awoke before dawn. It had 
been eleven months and nine days 
since he had first set foot on the 
African continent. 

He dressed in his Arabian clothing of 
white linen, bought especially for this 
day. He put his headcloth in place and 
secured it with a ring made of camel 
skin. Wearing his new sandals, he 

descended the stairs silently. 

The city was still sleeping. He prepared 
himself a sandwich and drank some hot 
tea from a crystal glass. Then he sat in 
the sun-filled doorway, smoking the 

He smoked in silence, thinking of 
nothing, and listening to the sound of 
the wind that brought the scent of the 
desert. When he had finished his 
smoke, he reached into one of his 
pockets, and sat there for a few 
moments, regarding what he had 

It was a bundle of money. Enough to 
buy himself a hundred and twenty 

sheep, a return ticket, and a license to 
import products from Africa into his 
own country. 

He waited patiently for the merchant to 
awaken and open the shop. Then the 
two went off to have some more tea. 

"I'm leaving today," said the boy. "I 
have the money I need to buy my 
sheep. And you have the money you 
need to go to Mecca." 

The old man said nothing. 

"Will you give me your blessing?" 
asked the boy. "You have helped me." 
The man continued to prepare his tea, 
saying nothing. Then he turned to the 


"I am proud of you," he said. "You 
brought a new feeling into my crystal 
shop. But you know that I'm not going 
to go to Mecca. Just as you know that 
you're not going to buy your sheep." 

"Who told you that?" asked the boy, 

" Maktub" said the old crystal 

And he gave the boy his blessing. 

The boy went to his room and packed 

his belongings. They filled three sacks. 
As he was leaving, he saw, in the 
corner of the room, his old shepherd's 
pouch. It was bunched up, and he had 
hardly thought of it for a long time. As 
he took his jacket out of the pouch, 
thinking to give it to someone in the 
street, the two stones fell to the floor. 
Urim and Thummim. 

It made the boy think of the old king, 
and it startled him to realize how long 
it had been since he had thought of 
him. For nearly a year, he had been 
working incessantly, thinking only of 
putting aside enough money so that he 
could return to Spain with pride. 

"Never stop dreaming," the old king 
had said. "Follow the omens." 

The boy picked up Urim and 
Thummim, and, once again, had the 
strange sensation that the old king was 
nearby. He had worked hard for a year, 
and the omens were that it was time to 


I'm going to go back to doing just what 
I did before, the boy thought. Even 
though the sheep didn't teach me to 
speak Arabic. 

But the sheep had taught him 
something even more important: that 
there was a language in the world that 
everyone understood, a language the 

boy had used throughout the time that 
he was trying to improve things at the 
shop. It was the language of 
enthusiasm, of things accomplished 
with love and purpose, and as part of a 
search for something believed in and 
desired. Tangier was no longer a 
strange city, and he felt that, just as he 
had conquered this place, he could 
conquer the world. 

"When you want something, all the 
universe conspires to help you achieve 
it," the old king had said. 

But the old king hadn't said anything 
about being robbed, or about endless 
deserts, or about people who know 

what their dreams are but don't want to 
realize them. The old king hadn't told 
him that the Pyramids were just a pile 
of stones, or that anyone could build 
one in his backyard. And he had 
forgotten to mention that, when you 
have enough money to buy a flock 
larger than the one you had before, you 
should buy it. 

The boy picked up his pouch and put it 
with his other things. He went down the 
stairs and found the merchant waiting 
on a foreign couple, while two other 
customers walked about the shop, 
drinking tea from crystal glasses. It 
was more activity than usual for this 
time of the morning. From where he 

stood, he saw for the first time that the 
old merchant's hair was very much like 
the hair of the old king. He 
remembered the smile of the candy 
seller, on his first day in Tangier, when 
he had nothing to eat and nowhere to 
go—that smile had also been like the 
old king's smile. 

It's almost as if he had been here and 
left his mark, he thought. And yet, none 
of these people has ever met the old 
king. On the other hand, he said that he 
always appeared to help those who are 
trying to realize their destiny. 

He left without saying good-bye to the 
crystal merchant. He didn't want to cry 

with the other people there. He was 
going to miss the place and all the good 
things he had learned. 

He was more confident in himself, 
though, and felt as though he could 
conquer the world. 

"But I'm going back to the fields that I 
know, to take care of my flock again." 
He said that to himself with certainty, 
but he was no longer happy with his 
decision. He had worked for an entire 
year to make a dream come true, and 
that dream, minute by minute, was 
becoming less important. Maybe 
because that wasn't really his dream. 

Who knows... maybe it's better to be 

like the crystal merchant: never go to 
Mecca, and just go through life 
wanting to do so, he thought, again 
trying to convince himself. But as he 
held Urim and Thummim in his hand, 
they had transmitted to him the 
strength and will of the old king. By 
coincidence—or maybe it was an 
omen, the boy thought—he came to the 
bar he had entered on his first day 
there. The thief wasn't there, and the 
owner brought him a cup of tea. 

I can always go back to being a 
shepherd, the boy thought. I learned 
how to care for sheep, and I haven't 
forgotten how that's done. But maybe 
I'll never have another chance to get to 

the Pyramids in Egypt. The old man 
wore a breastplate of gold, and he knew 
about my past. He really was a king, a 
wise king. 

The hills of Andalusia were only two 
hours away, but there was an entire 
desert between him and the Pyramids. 
Yet the boy felt that there was another 
way to regard his situation: he was 
actually two hours closer to his 
treasure... the fact that the two hours 
had stretched into an entire year didn't 

I know why I want to get back to my 
flock, he thought. I understand sheep; 
they're no longer a problem, and they 

can be good friends. On the other hand, 
I don't know if the desert can be a 
friend, and it's in the desert that I have 
to search for my treasure. If I don't find 
it, I can always go home. I finally have 
enough money, and all the time I need. 
Why not? 

He suddenly felt tremendously happy. 
He could always go back to being a 
shepherd. He could always become a 
crystal salesman again. Maybe the 
world had other hidden treasures, but 
he had a dream, and he had met with a 
king. That doesn't happen to just 

He was planning as he left the bar. He 

had remembered that one of the crystal 
merchant's suppliers transported his 
crystal by means of caravans that 
crossed the desert. He held Urim and 
Thummim in his hand; because of 
those two stones, he was once again on 
the way to his treasure. 

"I am always nearby, when someone 
wants to realize their destiny," the old 
king had told him. 

What could it cost to go over to the 
supplier's warehouse and find out if the 
Pyramids were really that far away? 

The Englishman was sitting on a bench 

in a structure that smelled of animals, 
sweat, and dust; it was part warehouse, 
part corral. I never thought I'd end up 
in a place like this, he thought, as he 
leafed through the pages of a chemical 
journal. Ten years at the university, and 
here I am in a corral. 

But he had to move on. He believed in 
omens. All his life and all his studies 
were aimed at finding the one true 
language of the universe. First he had 
studied Esperanto, then the world's 
religions, and now it was alchemy. He 
knew how to speak Esperanto, he 
understood all the major religions well, 
but he wasn't yet an alchemist. He had 
unraveled the truths behind important 

questions, but his studies had taken 
him to a point beyond which he could 
not seem to go. He had tried in vain to 
establish a relationship with an 
alchemist. But the alchemists were 
strange people, who thought only about 
themselves, and almost always refused 
to help him. Who knows, maybe they 
had failed to discover the secret of the 
Master Work—the Philosopher's Stone 
—and for this reason kept their 
knowledge to themselves. 

He had already spent much of the 
fortune left to him by his father, 
fruitlessly seeking the Philosopher's 
Stone. He had spent enormous amounts 
of time at the great libraries of the 

world, and had purchased all the rarest 
and most important volumes on 
alchemy. In one he had read that, many 
years ago, a famous Arabian alchemist 
had visited Europe. It was said that he 
was more than two hundred years old, 
and that he had discovered the 
Philosopher's Stone and the Elixir of 
Life. The Englishman had been 
profoundly impressed by the story. But 
he would never have thought it more 
than just a myth, had not a friend of his 
—returning from an archaeological 
expedition in the desert—told him 
about an Arab that was possessed of 
exceptional powers. 

"He lives at the Al-Fayoum oasis," his 

friend had said. "And people say that 
he is two hundred years old, and is able 
to transform any metal into gold." 

The Englishman could not contain his 
excitement. He canceled all his 
commitments and pulled together the 
most important of his books, and now 
here he was, sitting inside a dusty, 
smelly warehouse. Outside, a huge 
caravan was being prepared for a 
crossing of the Sahara, and was 
scheduled to pass through Al-Fayoum. 

I'm going to find that damned 
alchemist, the Englishman thought. 
And the odor of the animals became a 
bit more tolerable. 

A young Arab, also loaded down with 
baggage, entered, and greeted the 

"Where are you bound?" asked the 
young Arab. 

"I'm going into the desert," the man 
answered, turning back to his reading. 
He didn't want any conversation at this 
point. What he needed to do was 
review all he had learned over the 
years, because the alchemist would 
certainly put him to the test. 

The young Arab took out a book and 
began to read. The book was written in 

That's good, thought the Englishman. 
He spoke Spanish better than Arabic, 
and, if this boy was going to Al- 
Fayoum, there would be someone to 
talk to when there were no other 
important things to do. 

"That's strange," said the boy, as he 
tried once again to read the burial 
scene that began the book. "I've been 
trying for two years to read this book, 
and I never get past these first few 
pages." Even without a king to provide 
an interruption, he was unable to 

He still had some doubts about the 

decision he had made. But he was able 
to understand one thing: making a 
decision was only the beginning of 
things. When someone makes a 
decision, he is really diving into a 
strong current that will carry him to 
places he had never dreamed of when 
he first made the decision. 

When I decided to seek out my 
treasure, I never imagined that I'd wind 
up working in a crystal shop, he 
thought. And joining this caravan may 
have been my decision, but where it 
goes is going to be a mystery to me. 

Nearby was the Englishman, reading a 
book. He seemed unfriendly, and had 

looked irritated when the boy had 
entered. They might even have become 
friends, but the Englishman closed off 
the conversation. 

The boy closed his book. He felt that he 
didn't want to do anything that might 
make him look like the Englishman. He 
took Urim and Thummim from his 
pocket, and began playing with them. 

The stranger shouted, "Urim and 

In a flash the boy put them back in his 

"They're not for sale," he said. 

"They're not worth much," the 
Englishman answered. "They're only 
made of rock crystal, and there are 
millions of rock crystals in the earth. 
But those who know about such things 
would know that those are Urim and 
Thummim. I didn't know that they had 
them in this part of the world." 

"They were given to me as a present by 
a king," the boy said. 

The stranger didn't answer; instead, he 
put his hand in his pocket, and took out 
two stones that were the same as the 

"Did you say a king?" he asked. 

"I guess you don't believe that a king 
would talk to someone like me, a 
shepherd," he said, wanting to end the 

"Not at all. It was shepherds who were 
the first to recognize a king that the 
rest of the world refused to 
acknowledge. So, it's not surprising 
that kings would talk to shepherds." 

And he went on, fearing that the boy 
wouldn't understand what he was 
talking about, "It's in the Bible. The 
same book that taught me about Urim 
and Thummim. These stones were the 
only form of divination permitted by 
God. The priests carried them in a 

golden breastplate." 

The boy was suddenly happy to be 
there at the warehouse. 

"Maybe this is an omen," said the 
Englishman, half aloud. 

"Who told you about omens?" The 
boy's interest was increasing by the 

"Everything in life is an omen," said 
the Englishman, now closing the 
journal he was reading. "There is a 
universal language, understood by 
everybody, but already forgotten. 

I am in search of that universal 

language, among other things. That's 
why I'm here. I have to find a man who 
knows that universal language. An 

The conversation was interrupted by 
the warehouse boss. 

"You're in luck, you two," the fat Arab 
said. "There's a caravan leaving today 
for Al-Fayoum." 

"But I'm going to Egypt," the boy said. 

"Al-Fayoum is in Egypt," said the 
Arab. "What kind of Arab are you?" 

"That's a good luck omen," the 
Englishman said, after the fat Arab had 

gone out. "If I could. I'd write a huge 
encyclopedia just about the words luck 
and coincidence. It's with those words 
that the universal language is written." 

He told the boy it was no coincidence 
that he had met him with Urim and 
Thummim in his hand. And he asked 
the boy if he, too, were in search of the 

"I'm looking for a treasure," said the 
boy, and he immediately regretted 
having said it. 

But the Englishman appeared not to 
attach any importance to it. 

"In a way, so am I," he said. 

"I don't even know what alchemy is," 
the boy was saying, when the 
warehouse boss called to them to come 


"I'm the leader of the caravan," said a 
dark-eyed, bearded man. "I hold the 
power of life and death for every 
person I take with me. The desert is a 
capricious lady, and sometimes she 
drives men crazy." 

There were almost two hundred people 
gathered there, and four hundred 

camels, horses, mules, and fowl. In the 

crowd were women, children, and a 
number of men with swords at their 
belts and rifles slung on their 
shoulders. The Englishman had several 
suitcases filled with books. There was a 
babble of noise, and the leader had to 
repeat himself several times for 
everyone to understand what he was 

"There are a lot of different people 
here, and each has his own God. But 
the only God I serve is Allah, and in his 
name I swear that I will do everything 
possible once again to win out over the 
desert. But I want each and every one 
of you to swear by the God you believe 
in that you will follow my orders no 

matter what. In the desert, 
disobedience means death." 

There was a murmur from the crowd. 
Each was swearing quietly to his or her 
own God. 

The boy swore to Jesus Christ. The 
Englishman said nothing. And the 
murmur lasted longer than a simple 
vow would have. The people were also 
praying to heaven for protection. 

A long note was sounded on a bugle, 
and everyone mounted up. The boy and 
the Englishman had bought camels, and 
climbed uncertainly onto their backs. 
The boy felt sorry for the Englishman's 
camel, loaded down as he was with the 

cases of books. 

"There's no such thing as coincidence," 
said the Englishman, picking np the 
conversation where it had been 
interrupted in the warehouse. "I'm here 
because a friend of mine heard of an 
Arab who..." 

But the caravan began to move, and it 
was impossible to hear what the 
Englishman was saying. The boy knew 
what he was about to describe, though: 
the mysterious chain that links one 
thing to another, the same chain that 
had caused him to become a shepherd, 
that had caused his recurring dream, 
that had brought him to a city near 

Africa, to find a king, and to be robbed 
in order to meet a crystal merchant, 

The closer one gets to realizing his 
destiny, the more that destiny becomes 
his true reason for being, thought the 

The caravan moved toward the east. It 
traveled during the morning, halted 
when the sun was at its strongest, and 
resumed late in the afternoon. The boy 
spoke very little with the Englishman, 
who spent most of his time with his 

The boy observed in silence the 
progress of the animals and people 

across the desert. 

Now everything was quite different 
from how it was that day they had set 
out: then, there had been confusion and 
shouting, the cries of children and the 
whinnying of animals, all mixed with 
the nervous orders of the guides and 
the merchants. 

But, in the desert, there was only the 
sound of the eternal wind, and of the 
hoofbeats of the animals. Even the 
guides spoke very little to one another. 

"I've crossed these sands many times," 
said one of the camel drivers one night. 
"But the desert is so huge, and the 
horizons so distant, that they make a 

person feel small, and as if he should 
remain silent." 

The boy understood intuitively what he 
meant, even without ever having set 
foot in the desert before. Whenever he 
saw the sea, or a fire, he fell silent, 
impressed by their elemental force. 

I've learned things from the sheep, and 
I've learned things from crystal, he 
thought. I can learn something from the 
desert, too. It seems old and wise. 

The wind never stopped, and the boy 
remembered the day he had sat at the 
fort in Tarifa with this same wind 
blowing in his face. It reminded him of 
the wool from his sheep... 

his sheep who were now seeking food 
and water in the fields of Andalusia, as 
they always had. 

"They're not my sheep anymore," he 
said to himself, without nostalgia. 
"They must be used to their new 
shepherd, and have probably already 
forgotten me. That's good. 

Creatures like the sheep, that are used 
to traveling, know about moving on." 

He thought of the merchant's daughter, 
and was sure that she had probably 

Perhaps to a baker, or to another 
shepherd who could read and could tell 

her exciting stories—after all, he 
probably wasn't the only one. But he 
was excited at his intuitive 
understanding of the camel driver's 
comment: maybe he was also learning 
the universal language that deals with 
the past and the present of all people. 
"Hunches," his mother used to call 
them. The boy was beginning to 
understand that intuition is really a 
sudden immersion of the soul into the 
universal current of life, where the 
histories of all people are connected, 
and we are able to know everything, 
because it's all written there. 

" Maktub," the boy said, remembering 
the crystal merchant. 

The desert was all sand in some 
stretches, and rocky in others. When 
the caravan was blocked by a boulder, 
it had to go around it; if there was a 
large rocky area, they had to make a 
major detour. If the sand was too fine 
for the animals' hooves, they sought a 
way where the sand was more 
substantial. In some places, the ground 
was covered with the salt of dried-up 
lakes. The animals balked at such 
places, and the camel drivers were 
forced to dismount and unburden their 
charges. The drivers carried the freight 
themselves over such treacherous 
footing, and then reloaded the camels. 
If a guide were to fall ill or die, the 
camel drivers would draw lots and 

appoint a new one. 

But all this happened for one basic 
reason: no matter how many detours 
and adjustments it made, the caravan 
moved toward the same compass point. 
Once obstacles were overcome, it 
returned to its course, sighting on a star 
that indicated the location of the oasis. 
When the people saw that star shining 
in the morning sky, they knew they 
were on the right course toward water, 
palm trees, shelter, and other people. It 
was only the Englishman who was 
unaware of all this; he was, for the 
most part, immersed in reading his 

The boy, too, had his book, and he had 
tried to read it during the first few days 
of the journey. But he found it much 
more interesting to observe the caravan 
and listen to the wind. As soon as he 
had learned to know his camel better, 
and to establish a relationship with 
him, he threw the book away. Although 
the boy had developed a superstition 
that each time he opened the book he 
would learn something important, he 
decided it was an unnecessary burden. 

He became friendly with the camel 
driver who traveled alongside him. At 
night, as they sat around the fire, the 
boy related to the driver his adventures 
as a shepherd. 

During one of these conversations, the 
driver told of his own life. 

"I used to live near Ell Cairum," he 
said. "I had my orchard, my children, 
and a life that would change not at all 
until I died. One year, when the crop 
was the best ever, we all went to 
Mecca, and I satisfied the only unmet 
obligation in my life. I could die 
happily, and that made me feel good. 

"One day, the earth began to tremble, 
and the Nile overflowed its banks. It 
was something that I thought could 
happen only to others, never to me. My 
neighbors feared they would lose all 
their olive trees in the flood, and my 

wife was afraid that we would lose our 
children. I thought that everything I 
owned would be destroyed. 

"The land was ruined, and I had to find 
some other way to earn a living. So 
now I'm a camel driver. But that 
disaster taught me to understand the 
word of Allah: people need not fear the 
unknown if they are capable of 
achieving what they need and want. 

"We are afraid of losing what we have, 
whether it's our life or our possessions 
and property. But this fear evaporates 
when we understand that our life 
stories and the history of the world 
were written by the same hand." 

Sometimes, their caravan met with 
another. One always had something 
that the other needed—as if everything 
were indeed written by one hand. As 
they sat around the fire, the camel 
drivers exchanged information about 
windstorms, and told stories about the 

At other times, mysterious, hooded 
men would appear; they were Bedouins 
who did surveillance along the caravan 
route. They provided warnings about 
thieves and barbarian tribes. They 
came in silence and departed the same 
way, dressed in black garments that 
showed only their eyes. One night, a 
camel driver came to the fire where the 

Englishman and the boy were sitting. 
"There are rumors of tribal wars," he 
told them. 

The three fell silent. The boy noted that 
there was a sense of fear in the air, 
even though no one said anything. 

Once again he was experiencing the 
language without words... the 
universal language. 

The Englishman asked if they were in 

"Once you get into the desert, there's 
no going back," said the camel driver. 
"And, when you can't go back, you 
have to worry only about the best way 
of moving forward. The rest is up to 

Allah, including the danger." 

And he concluded by saying the 
mysterious word: " Maktub." 

"You should pay more attention to the 
caravan," the boy said to the 
Englishman, after the camel driver had 
left. "We make a lot of detours, but 
we're always heading for the same 

"And you ought to read more about the 
world," answered the Englishman. 
"Books are like caravans in that 

The immense collection of people and 
animals began to travel faster. The 

days had always been silent, but now, 
even the nights—when the travelers 
were accustomed to talking around the 
fires—had also become quiet. And, one 
day, the leader of the caravan made the 
decision that the fires should no longer 
be lighted, so as not to attract attention 
to the caravan. 

The travelers adopted the practice of 
arranging the animals in a circle at 
night, sleeping together in the center as 
protection against the nocturnal cold. 
And the leader posted armed sentinels 
at the fringes of the group. 

The Englishman was unable to sleep 
one night. He called to the boy, and 

they took a walk along the dunes 
surrounding the encampment. There 
was a full moon, and the boy told the 
Englishman the story of his life. 

The Englishman was fascinated with 
the part about the progress achieved at 
the crystal shop after the boy began 
working there. 

"That's the principle that governs all 
things," he said. "In alchemy, it's called 
the Soul of the World. When you want 
something with all your heart, that's 
when you are closest to the Soul of the 
World. It's always a positive force." 

He also said that this was not just a 
human gift, that everything on the face 

of the earth had a soul, whether 
mineral, vegetable, or animal—or even 
just a simple thought. 

"Everything on earth is being 
continuously transformed, because the 
earth is alive... and it has a soul. We 
are part of that soul, so we rarely 
recognize that it is working for us. But 
in the crystal shop you probably 
realized that even the glasses were 
collaborating in your success." 

The boy thought about that for a while 
as he looked at the moon and the 
bleached sands. 

"I have watched the caravan as it 
crossed the desert," he said. "The 

caravan and the desert speak the same 
language, and it's for that reason that 
the desert allows the crossing. It's 
going to test the caravan's every step to 
see if it's in time, and, if it is, we will 
make it to the oasis." 

"If either of us had joined this caravan 
based only on personal courage, but 
without understanding that language, 
this journey would have been much 
more difficult." 

They stood there looking at the moon. 

"That's the magic of omens," said the 
boy. "I've seen how the guides read the 
signs of the desert, and how the soul of 
the caravan speaks to the soul of the 


The Englishman said, "I'd better pay 
more attention to the caravan." 

"And I'd better read your books," said 
the boy. 

They were strange books. They spoke 
about mercury, salt, dragons, and 
kings, and he didn't understand any of 
it. But there was one idea that seemed 
to repeat itself throughout all the 
books: all things are the manifestation 
of one thing only. 

In one of the books he learned that the 

most important text in the literature of 
alchemy contained only a few lines, 
and had been inscribed on the surface 
of an emerald. 

"It's the Emerald Tablet," said the 
Englishman, proud that he might teach 
something to the boy. 

"Well, then, why do we need all these 
books?" the boy asked. 

"So that we can understand those few 
lines," the Englishman answered, 
without appearing really to believe 
what he had said. 

The book that most interested the boy 
told the stories of the famous 

alchemists. They were men who had 
dedicated their entire lives to the 
purification of metals in their 
laboratories; they believed that, if a 
metal were heated for many years, it 
would free itself of all its individual 
properties, and what was left would be 
the Soul of the World. This Soul of the 
World allowed them to understand 
anything on the face of the earth, 
because it was the language with which 
all things communicated. They called 
that discovery the Master Work—it 
was part liquid and part solid. 

"Can't you just observe men and omens 
in order to understand the language?" 
the boy asked. 

"You have a mania for simplifying 
everything," answered the Englishman, 

"Alchemy is a serious discipline. Every 
step has to be followed exactly as it 
was followed by the masters." 

The boy learned that the liquid part of 
the Master Work was called the Elixir 
of Life, and that it cured all illnesses; it 
also kept the alchemist from growing 
old. And the solid part was called the 
Philosopher's Stone. 

"It's not easy to find the Philosopher's 
Stone," said the Englishman. "The 
alchemists spent years in their 
laboratories, observing the fire that 

purified the metals. They spent so 
much time close to the fire that 
gradually they gave up the vanities of 
the world. They discovered that the 
purification of the metals had led to a 
purification of themselves." 

The boy thought about the crystal 
merchant. He had said that it was a 
good thing for the boy to clean the 
crystal pieces, so that he could free 
himself from negative thoughts. The 
boy was becoming more and more 
convinced that alchemy could be 
learned in one's daily life. 

"Also," said the Englishman, "the 
Philosopher's Stone has a fascinating 

property. A small sliver of the stone 
can transform large quantities of metal 
into gold." 

Having heard that, the boy became 
even more interested in alchemy. He 
thought that, with some patience, he'd 
be able to transform everything into 
gold. He read the lives of the various 
people who had succeeded in doing so: 
Helvetius, Elias, Fulcanelli, and Geber. 
They were fascinating stories: each of 
them lived out his destiny to the end. 
They traveled, spoke with wise men, 
performed miracles for the 
incredulous, and owned the 
Philosopher's Stone and the Elixir of 

But when the boy wanted to learn how 
to achieve the Master Work, he became 
completely lost. There were just 
drawings, coded instructions, and 
obscure texts. 


"Why do they make things so 
complicated?" he asked the 
Englishman one night. The boy had 
noticed that the Englishman was 
irritable, and missed his books. 

"So that those who have the 
responsibility for understanding can 
understand," he said. 

"Imagine if everyone went around 

transforming lead into gold. Gold 
would lose its value. 

"It's only those who are persistent, and 
willing to study things deeply, who 
achieve the Master Work. That's why 
I'm here in the middle of the desert. I'm 
seeking a true alchemist who will help 
me to decipher the codes." 

"When were these books written?" the 
boy asked. 

"Many centuries ago." 

"They didn't have the printing press in 
those days," the boy argued. "There 
was no way for everybody to know 
about alchemy. Why did they use such 

strange language, with so many 

The Englishman didn't answer him 
directly. He said that for the past few 
days he had been paying attention to 
how the caravan operated, but that he 
hadn't learned anything new. The only 
thing he had noticed was that talk of 
war was becoming more and more 

Then one day the boy returned the 
books to the Englishman. "Did you 
learn anything?" 

the Englishman asked, eager to hear 

what it might be. He needed someone 
to talk to so as to avoid thinking about 
the possibility of war. 

"I learned that the world has a soul, and 
that whoever understands that soul can 
also understand the language of things. 

I learned that many alchemists realized 
their destinies, and wound up 
discovering the Soul of the World, the 
Philosopher's Stone, and the Elixir of 

"But, above all, I learned that these 
things are all so simple that they could 
be written on the surface of an 

The Englishman was disappointed. The 

years of research, the magic symbols, 
the strange words and the laboratory 
equipment... none of this had made an 
impression on the boy. 

His soul must be too primitive to 
understand those things, he thought. 

He took back his books and packed 
them away again in their bags. 

"Go back to watching the caravan," he 
said. "That didn't teach me anything, 

The boy went back to contemplating 
the silence of the desert, and the sand 
raised by the animals. "Everyone has 
his or her own way of learning things," 

he said to himself. "His way isn't the 
same as mine, nor mine as his. But 
we're both in search of our destinies, 
and I respect him for that." 


The caravan began to travel day and 
night. The hooded Bedouins reappeared 
more and more frequently, and the 
camel driver—who had become a good 
friend of the boy's— 

explained that the war between the 
tribes had already begun. The caravan 
would be very lucky to reach the oasis. 

The animals were exhausted, and the 
men talked among themselves less and 

less. The silence was the worst aspect 
of the night, when the mere groan of a 
camel—which before had been nothing 
but the groan of a camel—now 
frightened everyone, because it might 
signal a raid. 

The camel driver, though, seemed not 
to be very concerned with the threat of 

"I'm alive," he said to the boy, as they 
ate a bunch of dates one night, with no 
fires and no moon. "When I'm eating, 
that's all I think about. If I'm on the 
march, I just concentrate on marching. 
If I have to fight, it will be just as good 
a day to die as any other. 

"Because I don't live in either my past 
or my future. I'm interested only in the 
present. If you can concentrate always 
on the present, you'll be a happy man. 
You'll see that there is life in the 
desert, that there are stars in the 
heavens, and that tribesmen fight 
because they are part of the human 
race. Life will be a party for you, a 
grand festival, because life is the 
moment we're living right now." 

Two nights later, as he was getting 
ready to bed down, the boy looked for 
the star they followed every night. He 
thought that the horizon was a bit lower 
than it had been, because he seemed to 
see stars on the desert itself. 

"It's the oasis," said the camel driver. 

"Well, why don't we go there right 
now?" the boy asked. 

"Because we have to sleep." 


The boy awoke as the sun rose. There, 
in front of him, where the small stars 
had been the night before, was an 
endless row of date palms, stretching 
across the entire desert. 

"We've done it!" said the Englishman, 
who had also awakened early. 

But the boy was quiet. He was at home 

with the silence of the desert, and he 
was content just to look at the trees. He 
still had a long way to go to reach the 
pyramids, and someday this morning 
would just be a memory. But this was 
the present moment—the party the 
camel driver had mentioned—and he 
wanted to live it as he did the lessons 
of his past and his dreams of the future. 
Although the vision of the date palms 
would someday be just a memory, right 
now it signified shade, water, and a 
refuge from the war. Yesterday, the 
camel's groan signaled danger, and now 
a row of date palms could herald a 

The world speaks many languages, the 

boy thought. 


The times rush past, and so do the 
caravans, thought the alchemist, as he 
watched the hundreds of people and 
animals arriving at the oasis. People 
were shouting at the new arrivals, dust 
obscured the desert sun, and the 
children of the oasis were bursting with 
excitement at the arrival of the 
strangers. The alchemist saw the tribal 
chiefs greet the leader of the caravan, 
and converse with him at length. 

But none of that mattered to the 
alchemist. He had already seen many 
people come and go, and the desert 

remained as it was. He had seen kings 
and beggars walking the desert sands. 
The dunes were changed constantly by 
the wind, yet these were the same sands 
he had known since he was a child. He 
always enjoyed seeing the happiness 
that the travelers experienced when, 
after weeks of yellow sand and blue 
sky, they first saw the green of the date 
palms. Maybe God created the desert 
so that man could appreciate the date 
trees, he thought. 

He decided to concentrate on more 
practical matters. He knew that in the 
caravan there was a man to whom he 
was to teach some of his secrets. The 
omens had told him so. He didn't know 

the man yet, but his practiced eye 
would recognize him when he 

He hoped that it would be someone as 
capable as his previous apprentice. 

I don't know why these things have to 
be transmitted by word of mouth, he 
thought. It wasn't exactly that they 
were secrets; God revealed his secrets 
easily to all his creatures. 

He had only one explanation for this 
fact: things have to be transmitted this 
way because they were made up from 
the pure life, and this kind of life 
cannot be captured in pictures or 

Because people become fascinated with 
pictures and words, and wind up 
forgetting the Language of the World. 


The boy couldn't believe what he was 
seeing: the oasis, rather than being just 
a well surrounded by a few palm trees 
—as he had seen once in a geography 
book—was much larger than many 
towns back in Spain. There were three 
hundred wells, fifty thousand date 
trees, and innumerable colored tents 
spread among them. 

"It looks like The Thousand and One 
Nights," said the Englishman, 
impatient to meet with the alchemist. 

They were surrounded by children, 
curious to look at the animals and 
people that were arriving. The men of 
the oasis wanted to know if they had 
seen any fighting, and the women 
competed with one another for access 
to the cloth and precious stones 
brought by the merchants. The silence 
of the desert was a distant dream; the 
travelers in the caravan were talking 
incessantly, laughing and shouting, as 
if they had emerged from the spiritual 
world and found themselves once again 
in the world of people. They were 
relieved and happy. 

They had been taking careful 
precautions in the desert, but the camel 

driver explained to the boy that oases 
were always considered to be neutral 
territories, because the majority of the 
inhabitants were women and children. 
There were oases throughout the desert, 
but the tribesmen fought in the desert, 
leaving the oases as places of refuge. 

With some difficulty, the leader of the 
caravan brought all his people together 
and gave them his instructions. The 
group was to remain there at the oasis 
until the conflict between the tribes 
was over. Since they were visitors, they 
would have to share living space with 
those who lived there, and would be 
given the best accommodations. That 
was the law of hospitality. Then he 

asked that everyone, including his own 
sentinels, hand over their arms to the 
men appointed by the tribal chieftains. 

"Those are the rules of war," the leader 
explained. "The oases may not shelter 
armies or troops." 

To the boy's surprise, the Englishman 
took a chrome-plated revolver out of 
his bag and gave it to the men who 
were collecting the arms. 

"Why a revolver?" he asked. 

"It helped me to trust in people," the 
Englishman answered. 

Meanwhile, the boy thought about his 

treasure. The closer he got to the 
realization of his dream, the more 
difficult things became. It seemed as if 
what the old king had called 

"beginner's luck" were no longer 
functioning. In his pursuit of the 
dream, he was being constantly 
subjected to tests of his persistence and 
courage. So he could not be hasty, nor 
impatient. If he pushed forward 
impulsively, he would fail to see the 
signs and omens left by God along his 

God placed them along my path. He 
had surprised himself with the thought. 
Until then, he had considered the 

omens to be things of this world. Like 
eating or sleeping, or like seeking love 
or finding a job. He had never thought 
of them in terms of a language used by 
God to indicate what he should do. 

"Don't be impatient," he repeated to 
himself. "It's like the camel driver said: 
'Eat when it's time to eat. And move 
along when it's time to move along.' " 

That first day, everyone slept from 
exhaustion, including the Englishman. 
The boy was assigned a place far from 
his friend, in a tent with five other 
young men of about his age. 

They were people of the desert, and 
clamored to hear his stories about the 

great cities. 

The boy told them about his life as a 
shepherd, and was about to tell them of 
his experiences at the crystal shop 
when the Englishman came into the 

"I've been looking for you all 
morning," he said, as he led the boy 
outside. "I need you to help me find out 
where the alchemist lives." 

First, they tried to find him on their 
own. An alchemist would probably live 
in a manner that was different from 
that of the rest of the people at the 
oasis, and it was likely that in his tent 
an oven was continuously burning. 

They searched everywhere, and found 
that the oasis was much larger than 
they could have imagined; there were 
hundreds of tents. 

"We've wasted almost the entire day," 
said the Englishman, sitting down with 
the boy near one of the wells. 

"Maybe we'd better ask someone," the 
boy suggested. 

The Englishman didn't want to tell 
others about his reasons for being at 
the oasis, and couldn't make up his 
mind. But, finally, he agreed that the 
boy, who spoke better Arabic than he, 
should do so. The boy approached a 
woman who had come to the well to fill 

a goatskin with water. 

"Good afternoon, ma'am. I'm trying to 
find out where the alchemist lives here 
at the oasis." 

The woman said she had never heard of 
such a person, and hurried away. But 
before she fled, she advised the boy 
that he had better not try to converse 
with women who were dressed in 
black, because they were married 
women. He should respect tradition. 

The Englishman was disappointed. It 
seemed he had made the long journey 
for nothing. 

The boy was also saddened; his friend 

was in pursuit of his destiny. And, 
when someone was in such pursuit, the 
entire universe made an effort to help 
him succeed—that's what the old king 
had said. He couldn't have been wrong. 

"I had never heard of alchemists 
before," the boy said. "Maybe no one 
here has, either." 

The Englishman's eyes lit up. "That's 
it! Maybe no one here knows what an 
alchemist is! 

Find out who it is who cures the 
people's illnesses!" 

Several women dressed in black came 
to the well for water, but the boy would 

speak to none of them, despite the 
Englishman's insistence. Then a man 

"Do you know someone here who cures 
people's illnesses?" the boy asked. 

"Allah cures our illnesses," said the 
man, clearly frightened of the 
strangers. "You're looking for witch 
doctors." He spoke some verses from 
the Koran, and moved on. 

Another man appeared. He was older, 
and was carrying a small bucket. The 
boy repeated his question. 

"Why do you want to find that sort of 
person?" the Arab asked. 

"Because my friend here has traveled 
for many months in order to meet with 
him," the boy said. 

"If such a man is here at the oasis, he 
must be the very powerful one," said 
the old man after thinking for a few 
moments. "Not even the tribal 
chieftains are able to see him when 
they want to. Only when he consents. 

"Wait for the end of the war. Then 
leave with the caravan. Don't try to 
enter into the life of the oasis," he said, 
and walked away. 

But the Englishman was exultant. They 
were on the right track. 

Finally, a young woman approached 
who was not dressed in black. She had 
a vessel on her shoulder, and her head 
was covered by a veil, but her face was 
uncovered. The boy approached her to 
ask about the alchemist. 

At that moment, it seemed to him that 
time stood still, and the Soul of the 
World surged within him. When he 
looked into her dark eyes, and saw that 
her lips were poised between a laugh 
and silence, he learned the most 
important part of the language that all 
the world spoke—the language that 
everyone on earth was capable of 
understanding in their heart. It was 
love. Something older than humanity. 

more ancient than the desert. 

Something that exerted the same force 
whenever two pairs of eyes met, as had 
theirs here at the well. She smiled, and 
that was certainly an omen—the omen 
he had been awaiting, without even 
knowing he was, for all his life. The 
omen he had sought to find with his 
sheep and in his books, in the crystals 
and in the silence of the desert. 

It was the pure Language of the World. 
It required no explanation, just as the 
universe needs none as it travels 
through endless time. What the boy felt 
at that moment was that he was in the 
presence of the only woman in his life. 

and that, with no need for words, she 
recognized the same thing. He was 
more certain of it than of anything in 
the world. 

He had been told by his parents and 
grandparents that he must fall in love 
and really know a person before 
becoming committed. But maybe 
people who felt that way had never 
learned the universal language. 
Because, when you know that language, 
it's easy to understand that someone in 
the world awaits you, whether it's in 
the middle of the desert or in some 
great city. And when two such people 
encounter each other, and their eyes 
meet, the past and the future become 

unimportant. There is only that 
moment, and the incredible certainty 
that everything under the sun has been 
written by one hand only. It is the hand 
that evokes love, and creates a twin 
soul for every person in the world. 
Without such love, one's dreams would 
have no meaning. 

Maktub, thought the boy. 

The Englishman shook the boy: "Come 
on, ask her!" 

The boy stepped closer to the girl, and 
when she smiled, he did the same. 

"What's your name?" he asked. 

"Fatima," the girl said, averting her 

"That's what some women in my 
country are called." 

"It's the name of the Prophet's 
daughter," Fatima said. "The invaders 
carried the name everywhere." The 
beautiful girl spoke of the invaders 
with pride. 

The Englishman prodded him, and the 
boy asked her about the man who cured 
people's illnesses. 

"That's the man who knows all the 
secrets of the world," she said. "He 
communicates with the genies of the 


The genies were the spirits of good and 
evil. And the girl pointed to the south, 
indicating that it was there the strange 
man lived. Then she filled her vessel 
with water and left. 

The Englishman vanished, too, gone to 
find the alchemist. And the boy sat 
there by the well for a long time, 
remembering that one day in Tarifa the 
levanter had brought to him the 
perfume of that woman, and realizing 
that he had loved her before he even 
knew she existed. He knew that his 
love for her would enable him to 
discover every treasure in the world. 

The next day, the boy returned to the 
well, hoping to see the girl. To his 
surprise, the Englishman was there, 
looking out at the desert, 

"I waited all afternoon and evening," he 
said. "He appeared with the first stars 
of evening. 

I told him what I was seeking, and he 
asked me if I had ever transformed lead 
into gold. I told him that was what I 
had come here to learn. 

"He told me I should try to do so. 

That's all he said: 'Go and try.' " 

The boy didn't say anything. The poor 
Englishman had traveled all this way. 

only to be told that he should repeat 
what he had already done so many 

"So, then try," he said to the 

"That's what I'm going to do. I'm going 
to start now." 

As the Englishman left, Fatima arrived 
and filled her vessel with water. 

"I came to tell you just one thing," the 
boy said. "I want you to be my wife. I 
love you." 

The girl dropped the container, and the 
water spilled. 

"I'm going to wait here for you every 
day. I have crossed the desert in search 
of a treasure that is somewhere near the 
Pyramids, and for me, the war seemed 
a curse. But now it's a blessing, 
because it brought me to you." 

"The war is going to end someday," the 
girl said. 

The boy looked around him at the date 
palms. He reminded himself that he 
had been a shepherd, and that he could 
be a shepherd again. Fatima was more 
important than his treasure. 

"The tribesmen are always in search of 
treasure," the girl said, as if she had 
guessed what he was thinking. "And the 

women of the desert are proud of their 

She refilled her vessel and left. 

The boy went to the well every day to 
meet with Fatima. He told her about his 
life as a shepherd, about the king, and 
about the crystal shop. They became 
friends, and except for the fifteen 
minutes he spent with her, each day 
seemed that it would never pass. When 
he had been at the oasis for almost a 
month, the leader of the caravan called 
a meeting of all of the people traveling 
with him. 

"We don't know when the war will end, 
so we can't continue our journey," he 

said. "The battles may last for a long 
time, perhaps even years. There are 
powerful forces on both sides, and the 
war is important to both armies. It's not 
a battle of good against evil. It's a war 
between forces that are fighting for the 
balance of power, and, when that type 
of battle begins, it lasts longer than 
others—because Allah is on both 

The people went back to where they 
were living, and the boy went to meet 
with Fatima that afternoon. He told her 
about the morning's meeting. "The day 
after we met," Fatima said, "you told 
me that you loved me. Then, you taught 
me something of the universal 

language and the Soul of the World. 
Because of that, I have become a part 
of you." 

The boy listened to the sound of her 
voice, and thought it to be more 
beautiful than the sound of the wind in 
the date palms. 

"I have been waiting for you here at 
this oasis for a long time. I have 
forgotten about my past, about my 
traditions, and the way in which men of 
the desert expect women to behave. 
Ever since I was a child, I have 
dreamed that the desert would bring me 
a wonderful present. Now, my present 
has arrived, and it's you." 

The boy wanted to take her hand. But 
Fatima's hands held to the handles of 
her jug. 

"You have told me about your dreams, 
about the old king and your treasure. 
And you've told me about omens. So 
now, I fear nothing, because it was 
those omens that brought you to me. 
And I am a part of your dream, a part 
of your destiny, as you call it. 

"That's why I want you to continue 
toward your goal. If you have to wait 
until the war is over, then wait. But if 
you have to go before then, go on in 
pursuit of your dream. The dunes are 
changed by the wind, but the desert 

never changes. That's the way it will be 
with our love for each other. 

" Maktub," she said. "If I am really a 
part of your dream, you'll come back 
one day." 

The boy was sad as he left her that day. 
He thought of all the married shepherds 
he had known. They had a difficult 
time convincing their wives that they 
had to go off into distant fields. Love 
required them to stay with the people 
they loved. 

He told Fatima that, at their next 

"The desert takes our men from us, and 

they don't always return," she said. 

"We know that, and we are used to it. 
Those who don't return become a part 
of the clouds, a part of the animals that 
hide in the ravines and of the water that 
comes from the earth. They become a 
part of everything... they become the 
Soul of the World. 

"Some do come back. And then the 
other women are happy because they 
believe that their men may one day 
return, as well. I used to look at those 
women and envy them their happiness. 
Now, I too will be one of the women 
who wait. 

"I'm a desert woman, and I'm proud of 

that. I want my husband to wander as 
free as the wind that shapes the dunes. 
And, if I have to, I will accept the fact 
that he has become a part of the clouds, 
and the animals and the water of the 

The boy went to look for the 
Englishman. He wanted to tell him 
about Fatima. He was surprised when 
he saw that the Englishman had built 
himself a furnace outside his tent. It 
was a strange furnace, fueled by 
firewood, with a transparent flask 
heating on top. As the Englishman 
stared out at the desert, his eyes 
seemed brighter than they had when he 
was reading his books. 

"This is the first phase of the job," he 
said. "I have to separate out the sulfur. 
To do that successfully, I must have no 
fear of failure. It was my fear of failure 
that first kept me from attempting the 
Master Work. Now, I'm beginning what 
I could have started ten years ago. But 
I'm happy at least that I didn't wait 
twenty years." 

He continued to feed the fire, and the 
boy stayed on until the desert turned 
pink in the setting sun. He felt the urge 
to go out into the desert, to see if its 
silence held the answers to his 

He wandered for a while, keeping the 

date palms of the oasis within sight. He 
listened to the wind, and felt the stones 
beneath his feet. Here and there, he 
found a shell, and realized that the 
desert, in remote times, had been a sea. 
He sat on a stone, and allowed himself 
to become hypnotized by the horizon. 
He tried to deal with the concept of 
love as distinct from possession, and 
couldn't separate them. But Fatima was 
a woman of the desert, and, if anything 
could help him to understand, it was 
the desert. 

As he sat there thinking, he sensed 
movement above him. Looking up, he 
saw a pair of hawks flying high in the 

He watched the hawks as they drifted 
on the wind. Although their flight 
appeared to have no pattern, it made a 
certain kind of sense to the boy. It was 
just that he couldn't grasp what it 
meant. He followed the movement of 
the birds, trying to read something into 

Maybe these desert birds could explain 
to him the meaning of love without 

He felt sleepy. In his heart, he wanted 
to remain awake, but he also wanted to 
sleep. "I am learning the Language of 
the World, and everything in the world 
is beginning to make sense to me... 

even the flight of the hawks," he said to 
himself. And, in that mood, he was 
grateful to be in love. When you are in 
love, things make even more sense, he 

Suddenly, one of the hawks made a 
flashing dive through the sky, attacking 
the other. As it did so, a sudden, 
fleeting image came to the boy: an 
army, with its swords at the ready, 
riding into the oasis. The vision 
vanished immediately, but it had 
shaken him. He had heard people speak 
of mirages, and had already seen some 
himself: they were desires that, 
because of their intensity, materialized 
over the sands of the desert. But he 

certainly didn't desire that an army 
invade the oasis. 

He wanted to forget about the vision, 
and return to his meditation. He tried 
again to concentrate on the pink shades 
of the desert, and its stones. But there 
was something there in his heart that 
wouldn't allow him to do so. 

"Always heed the omens," the old king 
had said. The boy recalled what he had 
seen in the vision, and sensed that it 
was actually going to occur. 

He rose, and made his way back toward 
the palm trees. Once again, he 
perceived the many languages in the 
things about him: this time, the desert 

was safe, and it was the oasis that had 
become dangerous. 

The camel driver was seated at the base 
of a palm tree, observing the sunset. He 
saw the boy appear from the other side 
of the dunes. 

"An army is coming," the boy said. "I 
had a vision." 

"The desert fills men's hearts with 
visions," the camel driver answered. 

But the boy told him about the hawks: 
that he had been watching their flight 
and had suddenly felt himself to have 
plunged to the Soul of the World. 

The camel driver understood what the 
boy was saying. He knew that any 
given thing on the face of the earth 
could reveal the history of all things. 
One could open a book to any page, or 
look at a person's hand; one could turn 
a card, or watch the flight of the 

whatever the thing observed, one could 
find a connection with his experience 
of the moment. Actually, it wasn't that 
those things, in themselves, revealed 
anything at all; it was just that people, 
looking at what was occurring around 
them, could find a means of 
penetration to the Soul of the World. 

The desert was full of men who earned 
their living based on the ease with 
which they could penetrate to the Soul 
of the World. They were known as 
seers, and they were held in fear by 
women and the elderly. Tribesmen 
were also wary of consulting them, 
because it would be impossible to be 
effective in battle if one knew that he 
was fated to die. The tribesmen 
preferred the taste of battle, and the 
thrill of not knowing what the outcome 
would be; the future was already 
written by Allah, and what he had 
written was always for the good of 
man. So the tribesmen lived only for 
the present, because the present was 
full of surprises, and they had to be 

aware of many things: Where was the 
enemy's sword? 

Where was his horse? What kind of 
blow should one deliver next in order 
to remain alive? 

The camel driver was not a fighter, and 
he had consulted with seers. Many of 
them had been right about what they 
said, while some had been wrong. 

Then, one day, the oldest seer he had 
ever sought out (and the one most to be 
feared) had asked why the camel driver 
was so interested in the future. 

"Well... so I can do things," he had 
responded. "And so I can change those 
things that I don't want to happen." 

"But then they wouldn't be a part of 
your future," the seer had said. 

"Well, maybe I just want to know the 
future so I can prepare myself for 
what's coming." 

"If good things are coming, they will 
be a pleasant surprise," said the seer. 
"If bad things are, and you know in 
advance, you will suffer greatly before 
they even occur." 

"I want to know about the future 
because I'm a man," the camel driver 
had said to the seer. 

"And men always live their lives based 
on the future." 

The seer was a specialist in the casting 
of twigs; he threw them on the ground, 
and made interpretations based on how 
they fell. That day, he didn't make a 
cast. He wrapped the twigs in a piece of 
cloth and put them back in his bag. 

"I make my living forecasting the 
future for people," he said. "I know the 
science of the twigs, and I know how to 
use them to penetrate to the place 
where all is written. There, I can read 
the past, discover what has already 
been forgotten, and understand the 
omens that are here in the present. 

"When people consult me, it's not that 
I'm reading the future; I am guessing at 

the future. 

The future belongs to God, and it is 
only he who reveals it, under 
extraordinary circumstances. How do I 
guess at the future? Based on the 
omens of the present. The secret is here 
in the present. If you pay attention to 
the present, you can improve upon it. 

And, if you improve on the present, 
what comes later will also be better. 
Forget about the future, and live each 
day according to the teachings, 
confident that God loves his children. 

Each day, in itself, brings with it an 

The camel driver had asked what the 
circumstances were under which God 
would allow him to see the future. 

"Only when he, himself, reveals it. And 
God only rarely reveals the future. 
When he does so, it is for only one 
reason: it's a future that was written so 
as to be altered." 

God had shown the boy a part of the 
future, the camel driver thought. Why 
was it that he wanted the boy to serve 
as his instrument? 

"Go and speak to the tribal chieftains," 
said the camel driver. "Tell them about 
the armies that are approaching." 

"They'll laugh at me." 

"They are men of the desert, and the 
men of the desert are used to dealing 
with omens." 

"Well, then, they probably already 

"They're not concerned with that right 
now. They believe that if they have to 
know about something Allah wants 
them to know, someone will tell them 
about it. It has happened many times 
before. But, this time, the person is 

The boy thought of Fatima. And he 
decided he would go to see the chiefs 

of the tribes. 


The boy approached the guard at the 
front of the huge white tent at the 
center of the oasis. 

"I want to see the chieftains. I've 
brought omens from the desert." 

Without responding, the guard entered 
the tent, where he remained for some 
time. When he emerged, it was with a 
young Arab, dressed in white and gold. 
The boy told the younger man what he 
had seen, and the man asked him to 
wait there. He disappeared into the 

Night fell, and an assortment of 
fighting men and merchants entered 
and exited the tent. 

One by one, the campfires were 
extinguished, and the oasis fell as quiet 
as the desert. 

Only the lights in the great tent 
remained. During all this time, the boy 
thought about Fatima, and he was still 
unable to understand his last 
conversation with her. 

Finally, after hours of waiting, the 
guard bade the boy enter. The boy was 
astonished by what he saw inside. 
Never could he have imagined that, 
there in the middle of the desert, there 

existed a tent like this one. The ground 
was covered with the most beautiful 
carpets he had ever walked upon, and 
from the top of the structure hung 
lamps of hand-wrought gold, each with 
a lighted candle. The tribal chieftains 
were seated at the back of the tent in a 
semicircle, resting upon richly 
embroidered silk cushions. Servants 
came and went with silver trays laden 
with spices and tea. Other servants 
maintained the fires in the hookahs. 

The atmosphere was suffused with the 
sweet scent of smoke. 

There were eight chieftains, but the boy 
could see immediately which of them 
was the most important: an Arab 

dressed in white and gold, seated at the 
center of the semicircle. 

At his side was the young Arab the boy 
had spoken with earlier. 

"Who is this stranger who speaks of 
omens?" asked one of the chieftains, 
eyeing the boy. 

"It is I," the boy answered. And he told 
what he had seen. 

"Why would the desert reveal such 
things to a stranger, when it knows that 
we have been here for generations?" 
said another of the chieftains. 

"Because my eyes are not yet 

accustomed to the desert," the boy said. 
"I can see things that eyes habituated to 
the desert might not see." 

And also because I know about the 
Soul of the World, he thought to 

"The oasis is neutral ground. No one 
attacks an oasis," said a third chieftain. 

"I can only tell you what I saw. If you 
don't want to believe me, you don't 
have to do anything about it." 

The men fell into an animated 
discussion. They spoke in an Arabic 
dialect that the boy didn't understand, 
but, when he made to leave, the guard 

told him to stay. The boy became 
fearful; the omens told him that 
something was wrong. He regretted 
having spoken to the camel driver 
about what he had seen in the desert. 

Suddenly, the elder at the center smiled 
almost imperceptibly, and the boy felt 
better. The man hadn't participated in 
the discussion, and, in fact, hadn't said 
a word up to that point. 

But the boy was already used to the 
Language of the World, and he could 
feel the vibrations of peace throughout 
the tent. Now his intuition was that he 
had been right in coming. 

The discussion ended. The chieftains 

were silent for a few moments as they 
listened to what the old man was 
saying. Then he turned to the boy: this 
time his expression was cold and 

"Two thousand years ago, in a distant 
land, a man who believed in dreams 
was thrown into a dungeon and then 
sold as a slave," the old man said, now 
in the dialect the boy understood. "Our 
merchants bought that man, and 
brought him to Egypt. All of us know 
that whoever believes in dreams also 
knows how to interpret them." 

The elder continued, "When the 
pharaoh dreamed of cows that were 

thin and cows that were fat, this man 
I'm speaking of rescued Egypt from 
famine. His name was Joseph. He, too, 
was a stranger in a strange land, like 
you, and he was probably about your 

He paused, and his eyes were still 

"We always observe the Tradition. The 
Tradition saved Egypt from famine in 
those days, and made the Egyptians the 
wealthiest of peoples. The Tradition 
teaches men how to cross the desert, 
and how their children should marry. 
The Tradition says that an oasis is 
neutral territory, because both sides 

have oases, and so both are 

No one said a word as the old man 

"But the Tradition also says that we 
should believe the messages of the 
desert. Everything we know was taught 
to us by the desert." 

The old man gave a signal, and 
everyone stood. The meeting was over. 
The hookahs were extinguished, and 
the guards stood at attention. The boy 
made ready to leave, but the old man 
spoke again: 

"Tomorrow, we are going to break the 

agreement that says that no one at the 
oasis may carry arms. Throughout the 
entire day we will be on the lookout for 
our enemies. When the sun sets, the 
men will once again surrender their 
arms to me. For every ten dead men 
among our enemies, you will receive a 
piece of gold. 

"But arms cannot be drawn unless they 
also go into battle. Arms are as 
capricious as the desert, and, if they are 
not used, the next time they might not 
function. If at least one of them hasn't 
been used by the end of the day 
tomorrow, one will be used on you." 

When the boy left the tent, the oasis 

was illuminated only by the light of the 
full moon. 

He was twenty minutes from his tent, 
and began to make his way there. 

He was alarmed by what had happened. 
He had succeeded in reaching through 
to the Soul of the World, and now the 
price for having done so might be his 
life. It was a frightening bet. But he 
had been making risky bets ever since 
the day he had sold his sheep to pursue 
his destiny. And, as the camel driver 
had said, to die tomorrow was no worse 
than dying on any other day. Every day 
was there to be lived or to mark one's 
departure from this world. Everything 

depended on one word: " Maktub" 

Walking along in the silence, he had no 
regrets. If he died tomorrow, it would 
be because God was not willing to 
change the future. He would at least 
have died after having crossed the 
strait, after having worked in a crystal 
shop, and after having known the 
silence of the desert and Fatima's eyes. 
He had lived every one of his days 
intensely since he had left home so 
long ago. If he died tomorrow, he 
would already have seen more than 
other shepherds, and he was proud of 

Suddenly he heard a thundering sound. 

and he was thrown to the ground by a 
wind such as he had never known. The 
area was swirling in dust so intense 
that it hid the moon from view. Before 
him was an enormous white horse, 
rearing over him with a frightening 

When the blinding dust had settled a 
bit, the boy trembled at what he saw. 
Astride the animal was a horseman 
dressed completely in black, with a 
falcon perched on his left shoulder. He 
wore a turban and his entire face, 
except for his eyes, was covered with a 
black kerchief. He appeared to be a 
messenger from the desert, but his 
presence was much more powerful than 

that of a mere messenger. 

The strange horseman drew an 
enormous, curved sword from a 
scabbard mounted on his saddle. The 
steel of its blade glittered in the light 
of the moon. 

"Who dares to read the meaning of the 
flight of the hawks?" he demanded, so 
loudly that his words seemed to echo 
through the fifty thousand palm trees 
of Al-Fayoum. 

"It is I who dared to do so," said the 
boy. He was reminded of the image of 
Santiago Matamoros, mounted on his 
white horse, with the infidels beneath 
his hooves. This man looked exactly 

the same, except that now the roles 
were reversed. 

"It is I who dared to do so," he 
repeated, and he lowered his head to 
receive a blow from the sword. "Many 
lives will be saved, because I was able 
to see through to the Soul of the 

The sword didn't fall. Instead, the 
stranger lowered it slowly, until the 
point touched the boy's forehead. It 
drew a droplet of blood. 

The horseman was completely 
immobile, as was the boy. It didn't 
even occur to the boy to flee. In his 
heart, he felt a strange sense of joy: he 

was about to die in pursuit of his 
destiny. And for Fatima. The omens 
had been true, after all. Here he was, 
face-to-face with his enemy, but there 
was no need to be concerned about 
dying—the Soul of the World awaited 
him, and he would soon be a part of it. 
And, tomorrow, his enemy would also 
be apart of that Soul. 

The stranger continued to hold the 
sword at the boy's forehead. "Why did 
you read the flight of the birds?" 

"I read only what the birds wanted to 
tell me. They wanted to save the oasis. 
Tomorrow all of you will die, because 
there are more men at the oasis than 

you have." 

The sword remained where it was. 
"Who are you to change what Allah has 

"Allah created the armies, and he also 
created the hawks. Allah taught me the 
language of the birds. Everything has 
been written by the same hand," the 
boy said, remembering the camel 
driver's words. 

The stranger withdrew the sword from 
the boy's forehead, and the boy felt 
immensely relieved. But he still 
couldn't flee. 

"Be careful with your 

prognostications," said the stranger. 
"When something is written, there is no 
way to change it." 

"All I saw was an army," said the boy. 

"I didn't see the outcome of the battle." 

The stranger seemed satisfied with the 
answer. But he kept the sword in his 
hand. "What is a stranger doing in a 
strange land?" 

"I am following my destiny. It's not 
something you would understand." 

The stranger placed his sword in its 
scabbard, and the boy relaxed. 

"I had to test your courage," the 

stranger said. "Courage is the quality 
most essential to understanding the 
Language of the World." 

The boy was surprised. The stranger 
was speaking of things that very few 
people knew about. 

"You must not let up, even after having 
come so far," he continued. "You must 
love the desert, but never trust it 
completely. Because the desert tests all 
men: it challenges every step, and kills 
those who become distracted." 

What he said reminded the boy of the 
old king. 

"If the warriors come here, and your 

head is still on your shoulders at 
sunset, come and find me," said the 

The same hand that had brandished the 
sword now held a whip. The horse 
reared again, raising a cloud of dust. 

"Where do you live?" shouted the boy, 
as the horseman rode away. 

The hand with the whip pointed to the 

The boy had met the alchemist. 

Next morning, there were two thousand 

armed men scattered throughout the 
palm trees at Al-Fayoum. Before the 
sun had reached its high point, five 
hundred tribesmen appeared on the 
horizon. The mounted troops entered 
the oasis from the north; it appeared to 
be a peaceful expedition, but they all 
carried arms hidden in their robes. 
When they reached the white tent at the 
center of Al-Fayoum, they withdrew 
their scimitars and rifles. And they 
attacked an empty tent. 

The men of the oasis surrounded the 
horsemen from the desert and within 
half an hour all but one of the intruders 
were dead. The children had been kept 
at the other side of a grove of palm 

trees, and saw nothing of what had 
happened. The women had remained in 
their tents, praying for the safekeeping 
of their husbands, and saw nothing of 
the battle, either. 

Were it not for the bodies there on the 
ground, it would have appeared to be a 
normal day at the oasis. 

The only tribesman spared was the 
commander of the battalion. That 
afternoon, he was brought before the 
tribal chieftains, who asked him why 
he had violated the Tradition. 

The commander said that his men had 
been starving and thirsty, exhausted 
from many days of battle, and had 

decided to take the oasis so as to be 
able to return to the war. 

The tribal chieftain said that he felt 
sorry for the tribesmen, but that the 
Tradition was sacred. He condemned 
the commander to death without honor. 
Rather than being killed by a blade or a 
bullet, he was hanged from a dead palm 
tree, where his body twisted in the 
desert wind. 

The tribal chieftain called for the boy, 
and presented him with fifty pieces of 
gold. He repeated his story about 
Joseph of Egypt, and asked the boy to 
become the counselor of the oasis. 

When the snn had set, and the first 
stars made their appearance, the boy 
started to walk to the south. He 
eventually sighted a single tent, and a 
group of Arabs passing by told the boy 
that it was a place inhabited by genies. 
But the boy sat down and waited. 

Not until the moon was high did the 
alchemist ride into view. He carried 
two dead hawks over his shoulder. 

"I am here," the boy said. 

"You shouldn't be here," the alchemist 
answered. "Or is it your destiny that 
brings you here?" 

"With the wars between the tribes, it's 

impossible to cross the desert. So I 
have come here." 

The alchemist dismounted from his 
horse, and signaled that the boy should 
enter the tent with him. It was a tent 
like many at the oasis. The boy looked 
around for the ovens and other 
apparatus used in alchemy, but saw 
none. There were only some books in a 
pile, a small cooking stove, and the 
carpets, covered with mysterious 

"Sit down. We'll have something to 
drink and eat these hawks," said the 

The boy suspected that they were the 

same hawks he had seen on the day 
before, but he said nothing. The 
alchemist lighted the fire, and soon a 
delicious aroma filled the tent. It was 
better than the scent of the hookahs. 

"Why did you want to see me?" the boy 

"Because of the omens," the alchemist 
answered. "The wind told me you 
would be coming, and that you would 
need help." 

"It's not I the wind spoke about. It's the 
other foreigner, the Englishman. He's 
the one that's looking for you." 

"He has other things to do first. But 

he's on the right track. He has begun to 
try to understand the desert." 

"And what about me?" 

"When a person really desires 
something, all the universe conspires to 
help that person to realize his dream," 
said the alchemist, echoing the words 
of the old king. The boy understood. 
Another person was there to help him 
toward his destiny. 

"So you are going to instruct me?" 

"No. You already know all you need to 
know. I am only going to point you in 
the direction of your treasure." 

"But there's a tribal war," the boy 

"I know what's happening in the 

"I have already found my treasure. I 
have a camel, I have my money from 
the crystal shop, and I have fifty gold 
pieces. In my own country, I would be 
a rich man." 

"But none of that is from the 
Pyramids," said the alchemist. 

"I also have Fatima. She is a treasure 
greater than anything else I have won." 

"She wasn't found at the Pyramids, 


They ate in silence. The alchemist 
opened a bottle and poured a red liquid 
into the boy's cup. It was the most 
delicious wine he had ever tasted. 

"Isn't wine prohibited here?" the boy 

"It's not what enters men's mouths 
that's evil," said the alchemist. "It's 
what comes out of their mouths that 

The alchemist was a bit daunting, but, 
as the boy drank the wine, he relaxed. 
After they finished eating they sat 
outside the tent, under a moon so 

brilliant that it made the stars pale. 

"Drink and enjoy yourself," said the 
alchemist, noticing that the boy was 
feeling happier. 

"Rest well tonight, as if you were a 
warrior preparing for combat. 
Remember that wherever your heart is, 
there you will find your treasure. 
You've got to find the treasure, so that 
everything you have learned along the 
way can make sense. 

"Tomorrow, sell your camel and buy a 
horse. Camels are traitorous: they walk 
thousands of paces and never seem to 
tire. Then suddenly, they kneel and die. 
But horses tire bit by bit. You always 

know how much you can ask of them, 
and when it is that they are about to 

The following night, the boy appeared 
at the alchemist's tent with a horse. The 
alchemist was ready, and he mounted 
his own steed and placed the falcon on 
his left shoulder. He said to the boy, 
"Show me where there is life out in the 
desert. Only those who can see such 
signs of life are able to find treasure." 

They began to ride out over the sands, 
with the moon lighting their way. I 
don't know if I'll be able to find life in 
the desert, the boy thought. I don't 

know the desert that well yet. 

He wanted to say so to the alchemist, 
but he was afraid of the man. They 
reached the rocky place where the boy 
had seen the hawks in the sky, but now 
there was only silence and the wind. 

"I don't know how to find life in the 
desert," the boy said. "I know that there 
is life here, but I don't know where to 

"Life attracts life," the alchemist 

And then the boy understood. He 
loosened the reins on his horse, who 
galloped forward over the rocks and 

sand. The alchemist followed as the 
boy's horse ran for almost half an hour. 
They could no longer see the palms of 
the oasis—only the gigantic moon 
above them, and its silver reflections 
from the stones of the desert. Suddenly, 
for no apparent reason, the boy's horse 
began to slow. 

"There's life here," the boy said to the 
alchemist. "I don't know the language 
of the desert, but my horse knows the 
language of life." 

They dismounted, and the alchemist 
said nothing. Advancing slowly, they 
searched among the stones. The 
alchemist stopped abruptly, and bent to 

the ground. There was a hole there 
among the stones. The alchemist put 
his hand into the hole, and then his 
entire arm, up to his shoulder. 
Something was moving there, and the 
alchemist's eyes—the boy could see 
only his eyes-squinted with his effort. 
His arm seemed to be battling with 
whatever was in the hole. Then, with a 
motion that startled the boy, he 
withdrew his arm and leaped to his 
feet. In his hand, he grasped a snake by 
the tail. 

The boy leapt as well, but away from 
the alchemist. The snake fought 
frantically, making hissing sounds that 
shattered the silence of the desert. It 

was a cobra, whose venom could kill a 
person in minutes. 

"Watch out for his venom," the boy 
said. But even though the alchemist 
had put his hand in the hole, and had 
surely already been bitten, his 
expression was calm. "The alchemist is 
two hundred years old," the 
Englishman had told him. He must 
know how to deal with the snakes of 
the desert. 

The boy watched as his companion 
went to his horse and withdrew a 
scimitar. With its blade, he drew a 
circle in the sand, and then he placed 
the snake within it. The serpent relaxed 


"Not to worry," said the alchemist. "He 
won't leave the circle. You found life in 
the desert, the omen that I needed." 

"Why was that so important?" 

"Because the Pyramids are surrounded 
by the desert." 

The boy didn't want to talk about the 
Pyramids. His heart was heavy, and he 
had been melancholy since the 
previous night. To continue his search 
for the treasure meant that he had to 
abandon Fatima. 

"I'm going to guide you across the 

desert," the alchemist said. 

"I want to stay at the oasis," the boy 
answered. "I've found Fatima, and, as 
far as I'm concerned, she's worth more 
than treasure." 

"Fatima is a woman of the desert," said 
the alchemist. "She knows that men 
have to go away in order to return. And 
she already has her treasure: it's you. 
Now she expects that you will find 
what it is you're looking for." 

"Well, what if I decide to stay?" 

"Let me tell you what will happen. 
You'll be the counselor of the oasis. 
You have enough gold to buy many 

sheep and many camels. You'll marry 
Fatima, and you'll both be happy for a 
year. You'll learn to love the desert, 
and you'll get to know every one of the 
fifty thousand palms. You'll watch 
them as they grow, demonstrating how 
the world is always changing. And 
you'll get better and better at 
understanding omens, because the 
desert is the best teacher there is. 

"Sometime during the second year, 
you'll remember about the treasure. 
The omens will begin insistently to 
speak of it, and you'll try to ignore 
them. You'll use your knowledge for 
the welfare of the oasis and its 
inhabitants. The tribal chieftains will 

appreciate what you do. And your 
camels will bring you wealth and 

"During the third year, the omens will 
continue to speak of your treasure and 
your destiny. 

You'll walk around, night after night, at 
the oasis, and Fatima will be unhappy 
because she'll feel it was she who 
interrupted your quest. But you will 
love her, and she'll return your love. 
You'll remember that she never asked 
you to stay, because a woman of the 
desert knows that she must await her 
man. So you won't blame her. But 
many times you'll walk the sands of the 

desert, thinking that maybe you could 
have left... that you could have trusted 
more in your love for Fatima. Because 
what kept you at the oasis was your 
own fear that you might never come 
back. At that point, the omens will tell 
you that your treasure is buried forever 

"Then, sometime during the fourth 
year, the omens will abandon you, 
because you've stopped listening to 
them. The tribal chieftains will see 
that, and you'll be dismissed from your 
position as counselor. But, by then, 
you'll be a rich merchant, with many 
camels and a great deal of 
merchandise. You'll spend the rest of 
your days knowing that you didn't 

pursue your destiny, and that now it's 
too late. 

"You must understand that love never 
keeps a man from pursuing his destiny. 
If he abandons that pursuit, it's because 
it wasn't true love... the love that 
speaks the Language of the World." 

The alchemist erased the circle in the 
sand, and the snake slithered away 
among the rocks. 

The boy remembered the crystal 
merchant who had always wanted to go 
to Mecca, and the Englishman in 
search of the alchemist. He thought of 
the woman who had trusted in the 
desert. And he looked out over the 

desert that had brought him to the 
woman he loved. 

They mounted their horses, and this 
time it was the boy who followed the 
alchemist back to the oasis. The wind 
brought the sounds of the oasis to 
them, and the boy tried to hear Fatima's 

But that night, as he had watched the 
cobra within the circle, the strange 
horseman with the falcon on his 
shoulder had spoken of love and 
treasure, of the women of the desert 
and of his destiny. 

"I'm going with you," the boy said. And 
he immediately felt peace in his heart. 

"We'll leave tomorrow before sunrise," 
was the alchemist's only response. 


The boy spent a sleepless night. Two 
hours before dawn, he awoke one of the 
boys who slept in his tent, and asked 
him to show him where Fatima lived. 
They went to her tent, and the boy gave 
his friend enough gold to buy a sheep. 

Then he asked his friend to go to into 
the tent where Fatima was sleeping, 
and to awaken her and tell her that he 
was waiting outside. The young Arab 
did as he was asked, and was given 
enough gold to buy yet another sheep. 

"Now leave us alone," said the boy to 
the young Arab. The Arab returned to 
his tent to sleep, proud to have helped 
the counselor of the oasis, and happy at 
having enough money to buy himself 
some sheep. 

Fatima appeared at the entrance to the 
tent. The two walked out among the 
palms. The boy knew that it was a 
violation of the Tradition, but that 
didn't matter to him now. 

"I'm going away," he said. "And I want 
you to know that I'm coming back. I 
love you because..." 

"Don't say anything," Fatima 
interrupted. "One is loved because one 

is loved. No reason is needed for 

But the boy continued, "I had a dream, 
and I met with a king. I sold crystal and 
crossed the desert. And, because the 
tribes declared war, I went to the well, 
seeking the alchemist. 

So, I love you because the entire 
universe conspired to help me find 

The two embraced. It was the first time 
either had touched the other. 

"I'll be back," the boy said. 

"Before this, I always looked to the 

desert with longing," said Fatima. 
"Now it will be with hope. My father 
went away one day, but he returned to 
my mother, and he has always come 
back since then." 

They said nothing else. They walked a 
bit farther among the palms, and then 
the boy left her at the entrance to her 

"I'll return, just as your father came 
back to your mother," he said. 

He saw that Fatima's eyes were filled 
with tears. 

"You're crying?" 

"I'm a woman of the desert," she said, 
averting her face. "But above all. I'm a 

Fatima went back to her tent, and, 
when daylight came, she went out to do 
the chores she had done for years. But 
everything had changed. The boy was 
no longer at the oasis, and the oasis 
would never again have the same 
meaning it had had only yesterday. It 
would no longer be a place with fifty 
thousand palm trees and three hundred 
wells, where the pilgrims arrived, 
relieved at the end of their long 
journeys. From that day on, the oasis 
would be an empty place for her. 

From that day on, it was the desert that 
would be important. She would look to 
it every day, and would try to guess 
which star the boy was following in 
search of his treasure. 

She would have to send her kisses on 
the wind, hoping that the wind would 
touch the boy's face, and would tell 
him that she was alive. That she was 
waiting for him, a woman awaiting a 
courageous man in search of his 
treasure. From that day on, the desert 
would represent only one thing to her: 
the hope for his return. 

"Don't think about what you've left 

behind," the alchemist said to the boy 
as they began to ride across the sands 
of the desert. "Everything is written in 
the Soul of the World, and there it will 
stay forever." 

"Men dream more about coming home 
than about leaving," the boy said. He 
was already reaccustomed to desert's 

"If what one finds is made of pure 
matter, it will never spoil. And one can 
always come back. If what you had 
found was only a moment of light, like 
the explosion of a star, you would find 
nothing on your return." 

The man was speaking the language of 

alchemy. But the boy knew that he was 
referring to Fatima. 

It was difficult not to think about what 
he had left behind. The desert, with its 
endless monotony, put him to 
dreaming. The boy could still see the 
palm trees, the wells, and the face of 
the woman he loved. He could see the 
Englishman at his experiments, and the 
camel driver who was a teacher without 
realizing it. Maybe the alchemist has 
never been in love, the boy thought. 

The alchemist rode in front, with the 
falcon on his shoulder. The bird knew 
the language of the desert well, and 
whenever they stopped, he flew off in 

search of game. On the first day he 
returned with a rabbit, and on the 
second with two birds. 

At night, they spread their sleeping 
gear and kept their fires hidden. The 
desert nights were cold, and were 
becoming darker and darker as the 
phases of the moon passed. They went 
on for a week, speaking only of the 
precautions they needed to follow in 
order to avoid the battles between the 
tribes. The war continued, and at times 
the wind carried the sweet, sickly smell 
of blood. Battles had been fought 
nearby, and the wind reminded the boy 
that there was the language of omens, 
always ready to show him what his 

eyes had failed to observe. 

On the seventh day, the alchemist 
decided to make camp earlier than 
usual. The falcon flew off to find game, 
and the alchemist offered his water 
container to the boy. 

"You are almost at the end of your 
journey," said the alchemist. "I 
congratulate you for having pursued 
your destiny." 

"And you've told me nothing along the 
way," said the boy. "I thought you were 
going to teach me some of the things 
you know. A while ago, I rode through 
the desert with a man who had books 
on alchemy. But I wasn't able to learn 

anything from them." 

"There is only one way to learn," the 
alchemist answered. "It's through 
action. Everything you need to know 
you have learned through your journey. 
You need to learn only one thing 

The boy wanted to know what that was, 
but the alchemist was searching the 
horizon, looking for the falcon. 

"Why are you called the alchemist?" 

"Because that's what I am." 

"And what went wrong when other 
alchemists tried to make gold and were 

unable to do so?" 

"They were looking only for gold," his 
companion answered. "They were 
seeking the treasure of their destiny, 
without wanting actually to live out the 

"What is it that I still need to know?" 
the boy asked. 

But the alchemist continued to look to 
the horizon. And finally the falcon 
returned with their meal. They dug a 
hole and lit their fire in it, so that the 
light of the flames would not be seen. 

"I'm an alchemist simply because I'm 
an alchemist," he said, as he prepared 

the meal. "I learned the science from 
my grandfather, who learned from his 
father, and so on, back to the creation 
of the world. In those times, the Master 
Work could be written simply on an 
emerald. But men began to reject 
simple things, and to write tracts, 
interpretations, and philosophical 
studies. They also began to feel that 
they knew a better way than others had. 

Yet the Emerald Tablet is still alive 

"What was written on the Emerald 
Tablet?" the boy wanted to know. 

The alchemist began to draw in the 
sand, and completed his drawing in less 

than five minutes. As he drew, the boy 
thought of the old king, and the plaza 
where they had met that day; it seemed 
as if it had taken place years and years 

"This is what was written on the 
Emerald Tablet," said the alchemist, 
when he had finished. 

The boy tried to read what was written 
in the sand. 

"It's a code," said the boy, a bit 
disappointed. "It looks like what I saw 
in the Englishman's books." 

"No," the alchemist answered. "It's like 
the flight of those two hawks; it can't 

be understood by reason alone. The 
Emerald Tablet is a direct passage to 
the Soul of the World. 

"The wise men understood that this 
natural world is only an image and a 
copy of paradise. 

The existence of this world is simply a 
guarantee that there exists a world that 
is perfect. 

God created the world so that, through 
its visible objects, men could 
understand his spiritual teachings and 
the marvels of his wisdom. That's what 
I mean by action." 

"Should I understand the Emerald 

Tablet?" the boy asked. 

"Perhaps, if you were in a laboratory of 
alchemy, this would be the right time 
to study the best way to understand the 
Emerald Tablet. But you are in the 
desert. So immerse yourself in it. The 
desert will give you an understanding 
of the world; in fact, anything on the 
face of the earth will do that. You don't 
even have to understand the desert: all 
you have to do is contemplate a simple 
grain of sand, and you will see in it all 
the marvels of creation." 

"How do I immerse myself in the 

"Listen to your heart. It knows all 

things, because it came from the Soul 
of the World, and it will one day return 


They crossed the desert for another two 
days in silence. The alchemist had 
become much more cautious, because 
they were approaching the area where 
the most violent battles were being 
waged. As they moved along, the boy 
tried to listen to his heart. 

It was not easy to do; in earlier times, 
his heart had always been ready to tell 
its story, but lately that wasn't true. 
There had been times when his heart 
spent hours telling of its sadness, and 

at other times it became so emotional 
over the desert sunrise that the boy had 
to hide his tears. His heart beat fastest 
when it spoke to the boy of treasure, 
and more slowly when the boy stared 
entranced at the endless horizons of the 
desert. But his heart was never quiet, 
even when the boy and the alchemist 
had fallen into silence. 

"Why do we have to listen to our 
hearts?" the boy asked, when they had 
made camp that day. 

"Because, wherever your heart is, that 
is where you'll find your treasure." 

"But my heart is agitated," the boy 
said. "It has its dreams, it gets 

emotional, and it's become passionate 
over a woman of the desert. It asks 
things of me, and it keeps me from 
sleeping many nights, when I'm 
thinking about her." 

"Well, that's good. Your heart is alive. 
Keep listening to what it has to say." 

During the next three days, the two 
travelers passed by a number of armed 
tribesmen, and saw others on the 
horizon. The boy's heart began to speak 
of fear. It told him stories it had heard 
from the Soul of the World, stories of 
men who sought to find their treasure 
and never succeeded. Sometimes it 
frightened the boy with the idea that he 

might not find his treasure, or that he 
might die there in the desert. At other 
times, it told the boy that it was 
satisfied: it had found love and riches. 

"My heart is a traitor," the boy said to 
the alchemist, when they had paused to 
rest the horses. "It doesn't want me to 
go on." 

"That makes sense," the alchemist 
answered. "Naturally it's afraid that, in 
pursuing your dream, you might lose 
everything you've won." 

"Well, then, why should I listen to my 

"Because you will never again be able 

to keep it quiet. Even if you pretend not 
to have heard what it tells you, it will 
always be there inside you, repeating to 
you what you're thinking about life and 
about the world." 

"You mean I should listen, even if it's 

"Treason is a blow that comes 
unexpectedly. If you know your heart 
well, it will never be able to do that to 
you. Because you'll know its dreams 
and wishes, and will know how to deal 
with them. 

"You will never be able to escape from 
your heart. So it's better to listen to 
what it has to say. That way, you'll 

never have to fear an unanticipated 

The boy continued to listen to his heart 
as they crossed the desert. He came to 
understand its dodges and tricks, and to 
accept it as it was. He lost his fear, and 
forgot about his need to go back to the 
oasis, because, one afternoon, his heart 
told him that it was happy. 

"Even though I complain sometimes," 
it said, "it's because I'm the heart of a 
person, and people's hearts are that 
way. People are afraid to pursue their 
most important dreams, because they 
feel that they don't deserve them, or 
that they'll be unable to achieve them. 

We, their hearts, become fearful just 
thinking of loved ones who go away 
forever, or of moments that could have 
been good but weren't, or of treasures 
that might have been found but were 
forever hidden in the sands. Because, 
when these things happen, we suffer 

"My heart is afraid that it will have to 
suffer," the boy told the alchemist one 
night as they looked up at the moonless 

"Tell your heart that the fear of 
suffering is worse than the suffering 
itself. And that no heart has ever 
suffered when it goes in search of its 

dreams, because every second of the 
search is a second's encounter with God 
and with eternity." 

"Every second of the search is an 
encounter with God," the boy told his 
heart. "When I have been truly 
searching for my treasure, every day 
has been luminous, because I've known 
that every hour was a part of the dream 
that I would find it. When I have been 
truly searching for my treasure. I've 
discovered things along the way that I 
never would have seen had I not had 
the courage to try things that seemed 
impossible for a shepherd to achieve." 

So his heart was quiet for an entire 

afternoon. That night, the boy slept 
deeply, and, when he awoke, his heart 
began to tell him things that came from 
the Soul of the World. It said that all 
people who are happy have God within 
them. And that happiness could be 
found in a grain of sand from the 
desert, as the alchemist had said. 
Because a grain of sand is a moment of 
creation, and the universe has taken 
millions of years to create it. 

"Everyone on earth has a treasure that 
awaits him," his heart said. "We, 
people's hearts, seldom say much about 
those treasures, because people no 
longer want to go in search of them. 

We speak of them only to children. 
Later, we simply let life proceed, in its 

own direction, toward its own fate. But, 
unfortunately, very few follow the path 
laid out for them—the path to their 
destinies, and to happiness. Most 
people see the world as a threatening 
place, and, because they do, the world 
turns out, indeed, to be a threatening 

"So, we, their hearts, speak more and 
more softly. We never stop speaking 
out, but we begin to hope that our 
words won't be heard: we don't want 
people to suffer because they don't 
follow their hearts." 

"Why don't people's hearts tell them to 
continue to follow their dreams?" the 

boy asked the alchemist. 

"Because that's what makes a heart 
suffer most, and hearts don't like to 

From then on, the boy understood his 
heart. He asked it, please, never to stop 
speaking to him. He asked that, when 
he wandered far from his dreams, his 
heart press him and sound the alarm. 
The boy swore that, every time he 
heard the alarm, he would heed its 

That night, he told all of this to the 
alchemist. And the alchemist 
understood that the boy's heart had 
returned to the Soul of the World. 

"So what should I do now?" the boy 

"Continue in the direction of the 
Pyramids," said the alchemist. "And 
continue to pay heed to the omens. 

Your heart is still capable of showing 
you where the treasure is." 

"Is that the one thing I still needed to 

"No," the alchemist answered. "What 
you still need to know is this: before a 
dream is realized, the Soul of the 
World tests everything that was learned 
along the way. It does this not because 
it is evil, but so that we can, in addition 
to realizing our dreams, master the 

lessons we've learned as we've moved 
toward that dream. That's the point at 
which most people give up. It's the 
point at which, as we say in the 
language of the desert, one 

'dies of thirst just when the palm trees 
have appeared on the horizon.' 

"Every search begins with beginner's 
luck. And every search ends with the 
victor's being severely tested." 

The boy remembered an old proverb 
from his country. It said that the 
darkest hour of the night came just 
before the dawn. 

On the following day, the first clear 
sign of danger appeared. Three armed 
tribesmen approached, and asked what 
the boy and the alchemist were doing 

"I'm hunting with my falcon," the 
alchemist answered. 

"We're going to have to search you to 
see whether you're armed," one of the 
tribesmen said. 

The alchemist dismounted slowly, and 
the boy did the same. 

"Why are you carrying money?" asked 
the tribesman, when he had searched 
the boy's bag. 

"I need it to get to the Pyramids," he 

The tribesman who was searching the 
alchemist's belongings found a small 
crystal flask filled with a liquid, and a 
yellow glass egg that was slightly 
larger than a chicken's egg. 

"What are these things?" he asked. 

"That's the Philosopher's Stone and the 
Elixir of Life. It's the Master Work of 
the alchemists. Whoever swallows that 
elixir will never be sick again, and a 
fragment from that stone turns any 
metal into gold." 

The Arabs laughed at him, and the 

alchemist laughed along. They thought 
his answer was amusing, and they 
allowed the boy and the alchemist to 
proceed with all of their belongings. 

"Are you crazy?" the boy asked the 
alchemist, when they had moved on. 
"What did you do that for?" 

"To show you one of life's simple 
lessons," the alchemist answered. 
"When you possess great treasures 
within you, and try to tell others of 
them, seldom are you believed." 

They continued across the desert. With 
every day that passed, the boy's heart 
became more and more silent. It no 
longer wanted to know about things of 

the past or future; it was content 
simply to contemplate the desert, and 
to drink with the boy from the Soul of 
the World. The boy and his heart had 
become friends, and neither was 
capable now of betraying the other. 

When his heart spoke to him, it was to 
provide a stimulus to the boy, and to 
give him strength, because the days of 
silence there in the desert were 
wearisome. His heart told the boy what 
his strongest qualities were: his 
courage in having given up his sheep 
and in trying to live out his destiny, 
and his enthusiasm during the time he 
had worked at the crystal shop. 

And his heart told him something else 
that the boy had never noticed: it told 
the boy of dangers that had threatened 
him, but that he had never perceived. 
His heart said that one time it had 
hidden the rifle the boy had taken from 
his father, because of the possibility 
that the boy might wound himself. And 
it reminded the boy of the day when he 
had been ill and vomiting out in the 
fields, after which he had fallen into a 
deep sleep. There had been two thieves 
farther ahead who were planning to 
steal the boy's sheep and murder him. 
But, since the boy hadn't passed by, 
they had decided to move on, thinking 
that he had changed his route. 

"Does a man's heart always help him?" 
the boy asked the alchemist. 

"Mostly just the hearts of those who 
are trying to realize their destinies. But 
they do help children, drunkards, and 
the elderly, too." 

"Does that mean that I'll never run into 

"It means only that the heart does what 
it can," the alchemist said. 

One afternoon, they passed by the 
encampment of one of the tribes. At 
each corner of the camp were Arabs 
garbed in beautiful white robes, with 
arms at the ready. The men were 

smoking their hookahs and trading 
stories from the battlefield. No one 
paid any attention to the two travelers. 

"There's no danger," the boy said, when 
they had moved on past the 

The alchemist sounded angry: "Trust in 
your heart, but never forget that you're 
in the desert. When men are at war 
with one another, the Soul of the World 
can hear the screams of battle. No one 
fails to suffer the consequences of 
everything under the sun." 

All things are one, the boy thought. 

And then, as if the desert wanted to 
demonstrate that the alchemist was 

right, two horsemen appeared from 
behind the travelers. 

"You can't go any farther," one of them 
said. "You're in the area where the 
tribes are at war." 

"I'm not going very far," the alchemist 
answered, looking straight into the eyes 
of the horsemen. They were silent for a 
moment, and then agreed that the boy 
and the alchemist could move along. 

The boy watched the exchange with 
fascination. "You dominated those 
horsemen with the way you looked at 
them," he said. 

"Your eyes show the strength of your 

soul," answered the alchemist. 

That's true, the boy thought. He had 
noticed that, in the midst of the 
multitude of armed men back at the 
encampment, there had been one who 
stared fixedly at the two. He had been 
so far away that his face wasn't even 
visible. But the boy was certain that he 
had been looking at them. 

Finally, when they had crossed the 
mountain range that extended along the 
entire horizon, the alchemist said that 
they were only two days from the 

"If we're going to go our separate ways 
soon," the boy said, "then teach me 

about alchemy." 

"You already know about alchemy. It is 
about penetrating to the Soul of the 
World, and discovering the treasure 
that has been reserved for you." 

"No, that's not what I mean. I'm talking 
about transforming lead into gold." 

The alchemist fell as silent as the 
desert, and answered the boy only after 
they had stopped to eat. 

"Everything in the universe evolved," 
he said. "And, for wise men, gold is the 
metal that evolved the furthest. Don't 
ask me why; I don't know why. I just 
know that the Tradition is always right. 

"Men have never understood the words 
of the wise. So gold, instead of being 
seen as a symbol of evolution, became 
the basis for conflict." 

"There are many languages spoken by 
things," the boy said. "There was a time 
when, for me, a camel's whinnying was 
nothing more than whinnying. Then it 
became a signal of danger. And, 
finally, it became just a whinny again." 

But then he stopped. The alchemist 
probably already knew all that. 

"I have known true alchemists," the 
alchemist continued. "They locked 
themselves in their laboratories, and 
tried to evolve, as gold had. And they 

found the Philosopher's Stone, because 
they understood that when something 
evolves, everything around that thing 
evolves as well. 

"Others stumbled upon the stone by 
accident. They already had the gift, and 
their souls were readier for such things 
than the souls of others. But they don't 
count. They're quite rare. 

"And then there were the others, who 
were interested only in gold. They 
never found the secret. They forgot that 
lead, copper, and iron have their own 
destinies to fulfill. And anyone who 
interferes with the destiny of another 
thing never will discover his own." 

The alchemist's words echoed out like 
a curse. He reached over and picked up 
a shell from the ground. 

"This desert was once a sea," he said. 

"I noticed that," the boy answered. 

The alchemist told the boy to place the 
shell over his ear. He had done that 
many times when he was a child, and 
had heard the sound of the sea. 

"The sea has lived on in this shell, 
because that's its destiny. And it will 
never cease doing so until the desert is 
once again covered by water." 

They mounted their horses, and rode 

out in the direction of the Pyramids of 

The sun was setting when the boy's 
heart sounded a danger signal. They 
were surrounded by gigantic dunes, and 
the boy looked at the alchemist to see 
whether he had sensed anything. But he 
appeared to be unaware of any danger. 
Five minutes later, the boy saw two 
horsemen waiting ahead of them. 
Before he could say anything to the 
alchemist, the two horsemen had 
become ten, and then a hundred. And 
then they were everywhere in the 

They were tribesmen dressed in blue, 
with black rings surrounding their 
turbans. Their faces were hidden 
behind blue veils, with only their eyes 

Even from a distance, their eyes 
conveyed the strength of their souls. 
And their eyes spoke of death. 

The two were taken to a nearby 
military camp. A soldier shoved the 
boy and the alchemist into a tent where 
the chief was holding a meeting with 
his staff. 

"These are the spies," said one of the 


"We're just travelers," the alchemist 

"You were seen at the enemy camp 
three days ago. And you were talking 
with one of the troops there." 

"I'm just a man who wanders the desert 
and knows the stars," said the 
alchemist. "I have no information 
about troops or about the movement of 
the tribes. I was simply acting as a 
guide for my friend here." 

"Who is your friend?" the chief asked. 

"An alchemist," said the alchemist. "He 

understands the forces of nature. And 
he wants to show you his extraordinary 

The boy listened quietly. And fearfully. 

"What is a foreigner doing here?" 
asked another of the men. 

"He has brought money to give to your 
tribe," said the alchemist, before the 
boy could say a word. And seizing the 
boy's bag, the alchemist gave the gold 
coins to the chief. 

The Arab accepted them without a 
word. There was enough there to buy a 
lot of weapons. 

"What is an alchemist?" he asked, 

"It's a man who understands nature and 
the world. If he wanted to, he could 
destroy this camp just with the force of 
the wind." 

The men laughed. They were used to 
the ravages of war, and knew that the 
wind could not deliver them a fatal 
blow. Yet each felt his heart beat a bit 
faster. They were men of the desert, 
and they were fearful of sorcerers. 

"I want to see him do it," said the chief. 

"He needs three days," answered the 
alchemist. "He is going to transform 

himself into the wind, just to 
demonstrate his powers. If he can't do 
so, we humbly offer you our lives, for 
the honor of your tribe." 

"You can't offer me something that is 
already mine," the chief said, 
arrogantly. But he granted the travelers 
three days. 

The boy was shaking with fear, but the 
alchemist helped him out of the tent. 

"Don't let them see that you're afraid," 
the alchemist said. "They are brave 
men, and they despise cowards." 

But the boy couldn't even speak. He 
was able to do so only after they had 

walked through the center of the camp. 
There was no need to imprison them: 
the Arabs simply confiscated their 
horses. So, once again, the world had 
demonstrated its many languages: the 
desert only moments ago had been 
endless and free, and now it was an 
impenetrable wall. 

"You gave them everything I had!" the 
boy said. "Everything I've saved in my 
entire life!" 

"Well, what good would it be to you if 
you had t6 die?" the alchemist 
answered. "Your money saved us for 
three days. It's not often that money 
saves a person's life." 

But the boy was too frightened to listen 
to words of wisdom. He had no idea 
how he was going to transform himself 
into the wind. He wasn't an alchemist! 

The alchemist asked one of the soldiers 
for some tea, and poured some on the 
boy's wrists. 

A wave of relief washed over him, and 
the alchemist muttered some words 
that the boy didn't understand. 

"Don't give in to your fears," said the 
alchemist, in a strangely gentle voice. 
"If you do, you won't be able to talk to 
your heart." 

"But I have no idea how to turn myself 

into the wind." 

"If a person is living out his destiny, he 
knows everything he needs to know. 
There is only one thing that makes a 
dream impossible to achieve: the fear 
of failure." 

"I'm not afraid of failing. It's just that I 
don't know how to turn myself into the 

"Well, you'll have to learn; your life 
depends on it." 

"But what if I can't?" 

"Then you'll die in the midst of trying 
to realize your destiny. That's a lot 

better than dying like millions of other 
people, who never even knew what 
their destinies were. 

"But don't worry," the alchemist 
continued. "Usually the threat of death 
makes people a lot more aware of their 

The first day passed. There was a major 
battle nearby, and a number of 
wounded were brought back to the 
camp. The dead soldiers were replaced 
by others, and life went on. 

Death doesn't change anything, the boy 

"You could have died later on," a 
soldier said to the body of one of his 
companions. "You could have died 
after peace had been declared. But, in 
any case, you were going to die." 

At the end of the day, the boy went 
looking for the alchemist, who had 
taken his falcon out into the desert. 

"I still have no idea how to turn myself 
into the wind," the boy repeated. 

"Remember what I told you: the world 
is only the visible aspect of God. And 
that what alchemy does is to bring 
spiritual perfection into contact with 
the material plane." 

"What are you doing?" 

"Feeding my falcon." 

"If I'm not able to turn myself into the 
wind, we're going to die," the boy said. 
"Why feed your falcon?" 

"You're the one who may die," the 
alchemist said. "I already know how to 
turn myself into the wind." 

On the second day, the boy climbed to 
the top of a cliff near the camp. The 
sentinels allowed him to go; they had 
already heard about the sorcerer who 
could turn himself into the wind, and 

they didn't want to go near him. In any 
case, the desert was impassable. 

He spent the entire afternoon of the 
second day looking out over the desert, 
and listening to his heart. The boy 
knew the desert sensed his fear. They 
both spoke the same language. 

On the third day, the chief met with his 
officers. He called the alchemist to the 
meeting and said, "Let's go see the boy 
who turns himself into the wind." 

"Let's," the alchemist answered. 

The boy took them to the cliff where he 

had been on the previous day. He told 
them all to be seated. 

"It's going to take a while," the boy 

"We're in no hurry," the chief 
answered. "We are men of the desert." 

The boy looked out at the horizon. 
There were mountains in the distance. 
And there were dunes, rocks, and plants 
that insisted on living where survival 
seemed impossible. There was the 
desert that he had wandered for so 
many months; despite all that time, he 
knew only a small part of it. Within 
that small part, he had found an 
Englishman, caravans, tribal wars, and 

an oasis with fifty thousand palm trees 
and three hundred wells. 

"What do you want here today?" the 
desert asked him. "Didn't you spend 
enough time looking at me yesterday?" 

"Somewhere you are holding the 
person I love," the boy said. "So, when 
I look out over your sands, I am also 
looking at her. I want to return to her, 
and I need your help so that I can turn 
myself into the wind." 

"What is love?" the desert asked. 

"Love is the falcon's flight over your 
sands. Because for him, you are a green 
field, from which he always returns 

with game. He knows your rocks, your 
dunes, and your mountains, and you are 
generous to him." 

"The falcon's beak carries bits of me, 
myself," the desert said. "For years, I 
care for his game, feeding it with the 
little water that I have, and then I show 
him where the game is. 

And, one day, as I enjoy the fact that 
his game thrives on my surface, the 
falcon dives out of the sky, and takes 
away what I've created." 

"But that's why you created the game in 
the first place," the boy answered. "To 
nourish the falcon. And the falcon then 
nourishes man. And, eventually, man 

will nourish your sands, where the 
game will once again flourish. That's 
how the world goes." 

"So is that what love is?" 

"Yes, that's what love is. It's what 
makes the game become the falcon, the 
falcon become man, and man, in his 
turn, the desert. It's what turns lead into 
gold, and makes the gold return to the 

"I don't understand what you're talking 
about," the desert said. 

"But you can at least understand that 
somewhere in your sands there is a 
woman waiting for me. And that's why 

I have to turn myself into the wind." 

The desert didn't answer him for a few 

Then it told him, "I'll give you my 
sands to help the wind to blow, but, 
alone, I can't do anything. You have to 
ask for help from the wind." 

A breeze began to blow. The tribesmen 
watched the boy from a distance, 
talking among themselves in a 
language that the boy couldn't 

The alchemist smiled. 

The wind approached the boy and 

touched his face. It knew of the boy's 
talk with the desert, because the winds 
know everything. They blow across the 
world without a birthplace, and with no 
place to die. 

"Help me," the boy said. "One day you 
carried the voice of my loved one to 

"Who taught you to speak the language 
of the desert and the wind?" 

"My heart," the boy answered. 

The wind has many names. In that part 
of the world, it was called the sirocco, 
because it brought moisture from the 
oceans to the east. In the distant land 

the boy came from, they called it the 
levanter, because they believed that it 
brought with it the sands of the desert, 
and the screams of the Moorish wars. 
Perhaps, in the places beyond the 
pastures where his sheep lived, men 
thought that the wind came from 
Andalusia. But, actually, the wind 
came from no place at all, nor did it go 
to any place; that's why it was stronger 
than the desert. Someone might one 
day plant trees in the desert, and even 
raise sheep there, but never would they 
harness the wind. 

"You can't be the wind," the wind said. 
"We're two very different things." 

"That's not true," the boy said. "I 
learned the alchemist's secrets in my 
travels. I have inside me the winds, the 
deserts, the oceans, the stars, and 
everything created in the universe. We 
were all made by the same hand, and 
we have the same soul. I want to be 
like you, able to reach every corner of 
the world, cross the seas, blow away 
the sands that cover my treasure, and 
carry the voice of the woman I love." 

"I heard what you were talking about 
the other day with the alchemist," the 
wind said. 

"He said that everything has its own 
destiny. But people can't turn 

themselves into the wind." 

"Just teach me to be the wind for a few 
moments," the boy said. "So you and I 
can talk about the limitless 
possibilities of people and the winds." 

The wind's curiosity was aroused, 
something that had never happened 
before. It wanted to talk about those 
things, but it didn't know how to turn a 
man into the wind. And look how many 
things the wind already knew how to 
do! It created deserts, sank ships, felled 
entire forests, and blew through cities 
filled with music and strange noises. It 
felt that it had no limits, yet here was a 
boy saying that there were other things 

the wind should be able to do. 

"This is what we call love," the boy 
said, seeing that the wind was close to 
granting what he requested. "When you 
are loved, you can do anything in 
creation. When you are loved, there's 
no need at all to understand what's 
happening, because everything happens 
within you, and even men can turn 
themselves into the wind. As long as 
the wind helps, of course." 

The wind was a proud being, and it was 
becoming irritated with what the boy 
was saying. 

It commenced to blow harder, raising 
the desert sands. But finally it had to 

recognize that, even making its way 
around the world, it didn't know how to 
turn a man into the wind. 

And it knew nothing about love. 

"In my travels around the world. I've 
often seen people speaking of love and 
looking toward the heavens," the wind 
said, furious at having to acknowledge 
its own limitations. 

"Maybe it's better to ask heaven." 

"Well then, help me do that," the boy 
said. "Fill this place with a sandstorm 
so strong that it blots out the sun. Then 
I can look to heaven without blinding 

So the wind blew with all its strength, 
and the sky was filled with sand. The 
sun was turned into a golden disk. 

At the camp, it was difficult to see 
anything. The men of the desert were 
already familiar with that wind. They 
called it the simum, and it was worse 
than a storm at sea. Their horses cried 
out, and all their weapons were filled 
with sand. 

On the heights, one of the commanders 
turned to the chief and said, "Maybe we 
had better end this!" 

They could barely see the boy. Their 
faces were covered with the blue 
cloths, and their eyes showed fear. 

"Let's stop this," another commander 

"I want to see the greatness of Allah," 
the chief said, with respect. "I want to 
see how a man turns himself into the 

But he made a mental note of the 
names of the two men who had 
expressed their fear. As soon as the 
wind stopped, he was going to remove 
them from their commands, because 
true men of the desert are not afraid. 

"The wind told me that you know about 
love " the boy said to the sun. "If you 
know about love, you must also know 
about the Soul of the World, because 

it's made of love." 

"From where I am," the sun said, "I can 
see the Soul of the World. It 
communicates with my soul, and 
together we cause the plants to grow 
and the sheep to seek out shade. From 
where I am—and I'm a long way from 
the earth—I learned how to love. I 
know that if I came even a little bit 
closer to the earth, everything there 
would die, and the Soul of the World 
would no longer exist. So we 
contemplate each other, and we want 
each other, and I give it life and 
warmth, and it gives me my reason for 

"So you know about love," the boy 

"And I know the Soul of the World, 
because we have talked at great length 
to each other during this endless trip 
through the universe. It tells me that its 
greatest problem is that, up until now, 
only the minerals and vegetables 
understand that all things are one. That 
there's no need for iron to be the same 
as copper, or copper the same as gold. 
Each performs its own exact function 
as a unique being, and everything 
would be a symphony of peace if the 
hand that wrote all this had stopped on 
the fifth day of creation. 

"But there was a sixth day," the sun 
went on. 

"You are wise, because you observe 
everything from a distance," the boy 
said. "But you don't know about love. If 
there hadn't been a sixth day, man 
would not exist; copper would always 
be just copper, and lead just lead. It's 
true that everything has its destiny, but 
one day that destiny will be realized. 

So each thing has to transform itself 
into something better, and to acquire a 
new destiny, until, someday, the Soul 
of the World becomes one thing only." 

The sun thought about that, and 
decided to shine more brightly. The 

wind, which was enjoying the 
conversation, started to blow with 
greater force, so that the sun would not 
blind the boy. 

"This is why alchemy exists," the boy 
said. "So that everyone will search for 
his treasure, find it, and then want to be 
better than he was in his former life. 
Lead will play its role until the world 
has no further need for lead; and then 
lead will have to turn itself into gold. 

"That's what alchemists do. They show 
that, when we strive to become better 
than we are, everything around us 
becomes better, too." 

"Well, why did you say that I don't 

know about love?" the sun asked the 

"Because it's not love to be static like 
the desert, nor is it love to roam the 
world like the wind. And it's not love to 
see everything from a distance, like 
you do. Love is the force that 
transforms and improves the Soul of 
the World. When I first reached 
through to it, I thought the Soul of the 
World was perfect. But later, I could 
see that it was like other aspects of 
creation, and had its own passions and 
wars. It is we who nourish the Soul of 
the World, and the world we live in 
will be either better or worse, 
depending on whether we become 

better or worse. And that's where the 
power of love comes in. Because when 
we love, we always strive to become 
better than we are." 

"So what do you want of me?" the sun 

"I want you to help me turn myself into 
the wind," the boy answered. 

"Nature knows me as the wisest being 
in creation," the sun said. "But I don't 
know how to turn you into the wind." 

"Then, whom should I ask?" 

The sun thought for a minute. The wind 
was listening closely, and wanted to 

tell every corner of the world that the 
sun's wisdom had its limitations. That 
it was unable to deal with this boy who 
spoke the Language of the World. 

"Speak to the hand that wrote all," said 
the sun. 

The wind screamed with delight, and 
blew harder than ever. The tents were 
being blown from their ties to the 
earth, and the animals were being freed 
from their tethers. On the cliff, the men 
clutched at each other as they sought to 
keep from being blown away. 

The boy turned to the hand that wrote 
all. As he did so, he sensed that the 
universe had fallen silent, and he 

decided not to speak. 

A current of love rushed from his heart, 
and the boy began to pray. It was a 
prayer that he had never said before, 
because it was a prayer without words 
or pleas. His prayer didn't give thanks 
for his sheep having found new 
pastures; it didn't ask that the boy be 
able to sell more crystal; and it didn't 
beseech that the woman he had met 
continue to await his return. In the 
silence, the boy understood that the 
desert, the wind, and the sun were also 
trying to understand the signs written 
by the hand, and were seeking to follow 
their paths, and to understand what had 
been written on a single emerald. He 

saw that omens were scattered 
throughout the earth and in space, and 
that there was no reason or significance 
attached to their appearance; he could 
see that not the deserts, nor the winds, 
nor the sun, nor people knew why they 
had been created. But that the hand had 
a reason for all of this, and that only 
the hand could perform miracles, or 
transform the sea into a desert... or a 
man into the wind. Because only the 
hand understood that it was a larger 
design that had moved the universe to 
the point at which six days of creation 
had evolved into a Master Work. 

The boy reached through to the Soul of 
the World, and saw that it was a part of 

the Soul of God. And he saw that the 
Soul of God was his own soul. And that 
he, a boy, could perform miracles. 


The simum blew that day as it had 
never blown before. For generations 
thereafter, the Arabs recounted the 
legend of a boy who had turned himself 
into the wind, almost destroying a 
military camp, in defiance of the most 
powerful chief in the desert. 

When the simum ceased to blow, 
everyone looked to the place where the 
boy had been. 

But he was no longer there; he was 

standing next to a sand-covered 
sentinel, on the far side of the camp. 

The men were terrified at his sorcery. 
But there were two people who were 
smiling: the alchemist, because he had 
found his perfect disciple, and the 
chief, because that disciple had 
understood the glory of God. 

The following day, the general bade the 
boy and the alchemist farewell, and 
provided them with an escort party to 
accompany them as far as they chose. 

They rode for the entire day. Toward 
the end of the afternoon, they came 

upon a Coptic monastery. The 
alchemist dismounted, and told the 
escorts they could return to the camp. 

"From here on, you will be alone," the 
alchemist said. "You are only three 
hours from the Pyramids." 

"Thank you," said the boy. "You taught 
me the Language of the World." 

"I only invoked what you already 

The alchemist knocked on the gate of 
the monastery. A monk dressed in 
black came to the gates. They spoke for 
a few minutes in the Coptic tongue, and 
the alchemist bade the boy enter. 

"I asked him to let me use the kitchen 
for a while," the alchemist smiled. 

They went to the kitchen at the back of 
the monastery. The alchemist lighted 
the fire, and the monk brought him 
some lead, which the alchemist placed 
in an iron pan. When the lead had 
become liquid, the alchemist took from 
his pouch the strange yellow egg. He 
scraped from it a sliver as thin as a 
hair, wrapped it in wax, and added it to 
the pan in which the lead had melted. 

The mixture took on a reddish color, 
almost the color of blood. The 
alchemist removed the pan from the 
fire, and set it aside to cool. As he did 

so, he talked with the monk about the 
tribal wars. 

"I think they're going to last for a long 
time," he said to the monk. 

The monk was irritated. The caravans 
had been stopped at Giza for some 
time, waiting for the wars to end. "But 
God's will be done," the monk said. 

"Exactly," answered the alchemist. 

When the pan had cooled, the monk 
and the boy looked at it, dazzled. The 
lead had dried into the shape of the 
pan, but it was no longer lead. It was 

"Will I learn to do that someday?" the 
boy asked. 

"This was my destiny, not yours," the 
alchemist answered. "But I wanted to 
show you that it was possible." 

They returned to the gates of the 
monastery. There, the alchemist 
separated the disk into four parts. 

"This is for you," he said, holding one 
of the parts out to the monk. "It's for 
your generosity to the pilgrims." 

"But this payment goes well beyond 
my generosity," the monk responded. 

"Don't say that again. Life might be 

listening, and give you less the next 

The alchemist turned to the boy. "This 
is for you. To make up for what you 
gave to the general." 

The boy was about to say that it was 
much more than he had given the 
general. But he kept quiet, because he 
had heard what the alchemist said to 
the monk. 

"And this is for me," said the 
alchemist, keeping one of the parts. 
"Because I have to return to the desert, 
where there are tribal wars." 

He took the fourth part and handed it to 

the monk. 

"This is for the boy. If he ever needs 

"But I'm going in search of my 
treasure," the boy said. "I'm very close 
to it now." 

"And I'm certain you'll find it," the 
alchemist said. 

"Then why this?" 

"Because you have already lost your 
savings twice. Once to the thief, and 
once to the general. I'm an old, 
superstitious Arab, and I believe in our 
proverbs. There's one that says. 

'Everything that happens once can 
never happen again. But everything 
that happens twice will surely happen a 
third time.' " They mounted their 


"I want to tell you a story about 
dreams," said the alchemist. 

The boy brought his horse closer. 

"In ancient Rome, at the time of 
Emperor Tiberius, there lived a good 
man who had two sons. One was in the 
military, and had been sent to the most 
distant regions of the empire. 

The other son was a poet, and delighted 
all of Rome with his beautiful verses. 

"One night, the father had a dream. An 
angel appeared to him, and told him 
that the words of one of his sons would 
be learned and repeated throughout the 
world for all generations to come. The 
father woke from his dream grateful 
and crying, because life was generous, 
and had revealed to him something any 
father would be proud to know. 

"Shortly thereafter, the father died as 
he tried to save a child who was about 
to be crushed by the wheels of a 
chariot. Since he had lived his entire 
life in a manner that was correct and 

fair, he went directly to heaven, where 
he met the angel that had appeared in 
his dream. 

" 'You were always a good man,' the 
angel said to him. 'You lived your life 
in a loving way, and died with dignity. 

I can now grant you any wish you 

" 'Life was good to me,' the man said. 
'When you appeared in my dream, I felt 
that all my efforts had been rewarded, 
because my son's poems will be read 
by men for generations to come. I don't 
want anything for myself. But any 
father would be proud of the fame 
achieved by one whom he had cared for 

as a child, and educated as he grew up. 

Sometime in the distant future, I would 
like to see my son's words.' 

"The angel touched the man's shoulder, 
and they were both projected far into 
the future. 

They were in an immense setting, 
surrounded by thousands of people 
speaking a strange language. 

"The man wept with happiness. 

" 'I knew that my son's poems were 
immortal,' he said to the angel through 
his tears. 'Can you please tell me which 
of my son's poems these people are 


"The angel came closer to the man, 
and, with tenderness, led him to a 
bench nearby, where they sat down. 

"'The verses of your son who was the 
poet were very popular in Rome,' the 
angel said. 

'Everyone loved them and enjoyed 
them. But when the reign of Tiberius 
ended, his poems were forgotten. The 
words you're hearing now are those of 
your son in the military.' 

"The man looked at the angel in 

" 'Your son went to serve at a distant 
place, and became a centurion. He was 
just and good. One afternoon, one of 
his servants fell ill, and it appeared that 
he would die. Your son had heard of a 
rabbi who was able to cure illnesses, 
and he rode out for days and days in 
search of this man. Along the way, he 
learned that the man he was seeking 
was the Son of God. He met others who 
had been cured by him, and they 
instructed your son in the man's 
teachings. And so, despite the fact that 
he was a Roman centurion, he 
converted to their faith. Shortly 
thereafter, he reached the place where 
the man he was looking for was 

" 'He told the man that one of his 
servants was gravely ill, and the rabbi 
made ready to go to his house with 
him. But the centurion was a man of 
faith, and, looking into the eyes of the 
rabbi, he knew that he was surely in the 
presence of the Son of God.' 

" 'And this is what your son said,' the 
angel told the man. 'These are the 
words he said to the rabbi at that point, 
and they have never been forgotten: 
"My Lord, I am not worthy that you 
should come under my roof. But only 
speak a word and my servant will be 

The alchemist said, "No matter what he 

does, every person on earth plays a 
central role in the history of the world. 
And normally he doesn't know it." 

The boy smiled. He had never 
imagined that questions about life 
would be of such importance to a 

"Good-bye," the alchemist said. 
"Good-bye," said the boy. 


The boy rode along through the desert 
for several hours, listening avidly to 
what his heart had to say. It was his 
heart that would tell him where his 

treasure was hidden. 

"Where your treasure is, there also will 
be your heart," the alchemist had told 

But his heart was speaking of other 
things. With pride, it told the story of a 
shepherd who had left his flock to 
follow a dream he had on two different 
occasions. It told of destiny, and of the 
many men who had wandered in search 
of distant lands or beautiful women, 
confronting the people of their times 
with their preconceived notions. It 
spoke of journeys, discoveries, books, 
and change. 

As he was about to climb yet another 

dune, his heart whispered, "Be aware of 
the place where you are brought to 
tears. That's where I am, and that's 
where your treasure is." 

The boy climbed the dune slowly. A 
full moon rose again in the starry sky: 
it had been a month since he had set 
forth from the oasis. The moonlight 
cast shadows through the dunes, 
creating the appearance of a rolling 
sea; it reminded the boy of the day 
when that horse had reared in the 
desert, and he had come to know the 
alchemist. And the moon fell on the 
desert's silence, and on a man's journey 
in search of treasure. 

When he reached the top of the dune, 
his heart leapt. There, illuminated by 
the light of the moon and the 
brightness of the desert, stood the 
solemn and majestic Pyramids of 

The boy fell to his knees and wept. He 
thanked God for making him believe in 
his destiny, and for leading him to 
meet a king, a merchant, an 
Englishman, and an alchemist. And 
above all for his having met a woman 
of the desert who had told him that 
love would never keep a man from his 

If he wanted to, he could now return to 

the oasis, go back to Fatima, and live 
his life as a simple shepherd. After all, 
the alchemist continued to live in the 
desert, even though he understood the 
Language of the World, and knew how 
to transform lead into gold. He didn't 
need to demonstrate his science and art 
to anyone. The boy told himself that, 
on the way toward realizing his own 
destiny, he had learned all he needed to 
know, and had experienced everything 
he might have dreamed of. 

But here he was, at the point of finding 
his treasure, and he reminded himself 
that no project is completed until its 
objective has been achieved. The boy 
looked at the sands around him, and 

saw that, where his tears had fallen, a 
scarab beetle was scuttling through the 
sand. During his time in the desert, he 
had learned that, in Egypt, the scarab 
beetles are a symbol of God. 

Another omen! The boy began to dig 
into the dune. As he did so, he thought 
of what the crystal merchant had once 
said: that anyone could build a pyramid 
in his backyard. The boy could see now 
that he couldn't do so if he placed stone 
upon stone for the rest of his life. 

Throughout the night, the boy dug at 
the place he had chosen, but found 
nothing. He felt weighted down by the 
centuries of time since the Pyramids 

had been built. But he didn't stop. He 
struggled to continue digging as he 
fought the wind, which often blew the 
sand back into the excavation. His 
hands were abraded and exhausted, but 
he listened to his heart. It had told him 
to dig where his tears fell. 

As he was attempting to pull out the 
rocks he encountered, he heard 
footsteps. Several figures approached 
him. Their backs were to the 
moonlight, and the boy could see 
neither their eyes nor their faces. 

"What are you doing here?" one of the 
figures demanded. 

Because he was terrified, the boy didn't 

answer. He had found where his 
treasure was, and was frightened at 
what might happen. 

"We're refugees from the tribal wars, 
and we need money," the other figure 
said. "What are you hiding there?" 

"I'm not hiding anything," the boy 

But one of them seized the boy and 
yanked him back out of the hole. 
Another, who was searching the boy's 
bags, found the piece of gold. 

"There's gold here," he said. 

The moon shone on the face of the 

Arab who had seized him, and in the 
man's eyes the boy saw death. 

"He's probably got more gold hidden in 
the ground." 

They made the boy continue digging, 
but he found nothing. As the sun rose, 
the men began to beat the boy. He was 
bruised and bleeding, his clothing was 
torn to shreds, and he felt that death 
was near. 

"What good is money to you if you're 
going to die? It's not often that money 
can save someone's life," the alchemist 
had said. Finally, the boy screamed at 
the men, "I'm digging for treasure!" 
And, although his mouth was bleeding 

and swollen, he told his attackers that 
he had twice dreamed of a treasure 
hidden near the Pyramids of Egypt. 

The man who appeared to be the leader 
of the group spoke to one of the others: 
"Leave him. He doesn't have anything 
else. He must have stolen this gold." 

The boy fell to the sand, nearly 
unconscious. The leader shook him and 
said, "We're leaving." 

But before they left, he came back to 
the boy and said, "You're not going to 
die. You'll live, and you'll learn that a 
man shouldn't be so stupid. Two years 
ago, right here on this spot, I had a 
recurrent dream, too. I dreamed that I 

should travel to the fields of Spain and 
look for a ruined church where 
shepherds and their sheep slept. In my 
dream, there was a sycamore growing 
out of the ruins of the sacristy, and I 
was told that, if I dug at the roots of the 
sycamore, I would find a hidden 
treasure. But I'm not so stupid as to 
cross an entire desert just because of a 
recurrent dream." 

And they disappeared. 

The boy stood up shakily, and looked 
once more at the Pyramids. They 
seemed to laugh at him, and he laughed 
back, his heart bursting with joy. 

Because now he knew where his 

treasure was. 


The boy reached the small, abandoned 
church just as night was falling. The 
sycamore was still there in the sacristy, 
and the stars could still be seen through 
the half-destroyed roof. He 
remembered the time he had been there 
with his sheep; it had been a peaceful 
night... except for the dream. 

Now he was here not with his flock, but 
with a shovel. 

He sat looking at the sky for a long 
time. Then he took from his knapsack a 
bottle of wine, and drank some. He 
remembered the night in the desert 

when he had sat with the alchemist, as 
they looked at the stars and drank wine 
together. He thought of the many roads 
he had traveled, and of the strange way 
God had chosen to show him his 
treasure. If he hadn't believed in the 
significance of recurrent dreams, he 
would not have met the Gypsy woman, 
the king, the thief, or... "Well, it's a 
long list. But the path was written in 
the omens, and there was no way I 
could go wrong," he said to himself. 

He fell asleep, and when he awoke the 
sun was already high. He began to dig 
at the base of the sycamore. 

"You old sorcerer," the boy shouted up 

to the sky. "You knew the whole story. 
You even left a bit of gold at the 
monastery so I could get back to this 
church. The monk laughed when he 
saw me come back in tatters. Couldn't 
you have saved me from that?" 

"No," he heard a voice on the wind say. 
"If I had told you, you wouldn't have 
seen the Pyramids. They're beautiful, 
aren't they?" 

The boy smiled, and continued digging. 
Half an hour later, his shovel hit 
something solid. 

An hour later, he had before him a 
chest of Spanish gold coins. There were 
also precious stones, gold masks 

adorned with red and white feathers, 
and stone statues embedded with 
jewels. The spoils of a conquest that 
the country had long ago forgotten, and 
that some conquistador had failed to 
tell his children about. 

The boy took out Urim and Thummim 
from his bag. He had used the two 
stones only once, one morning when he 
was at a marketplace. His life and his 
path had always provided him with 
enough omens. 

He placed Urim and Thummim in the 
chest. They were also a part of his new 
treasure, because they were a reminder 
of the old king, whom he would never 

see again. 

It's true; life really is generous to those 
who pursue their destiny, the boy 
thought. Then he remembered that he 
had to get to Tarifa so he could give 
one-tenth of his treasure to the Gypsy 
woman, as he had promised. Those 
Gypsies are really smart, he thought. 

Maybe it was because they moved 
around so much. 

The wind began to blow again. It was 
the levanter, the wind that came from 
Africa. It didn't bring with it the smell 
of the desert, nor the threat of Moorish 
invasion. Instead, it brought the scent 
of a perfume he knew well, and the 

touch of a kiss—a kiss that came from 
far away, slowly, slowly, until it rested 
on his lips. 

The boy smiled. It was the first time 
she had done that. 

"I'm coming, Fatima," he said.